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History of the Brigham City Public Library

From 100 Year History of the Brigham City Library by Kathy Bradford, additions by Elizabeth Schow. Images courtesy of Compton Studio Collection, USU Special Collections, Merrill-Cazier Library.

The First Hundred Years

View looking East over Brigham City with MIA library in left foregroundIn 1897, Mansfield S. Snow, editor of the city’s newspaper, the Brigham City Bugler, proposed building a public reading room. “The little town of Fairview, Saint Peter County, which has only 960 inhabitants, has a public library and reading room,” he wrote. “What’s wrong with Brigham’s 3,000 inhabitants that they do not catch up in the procession of advancement with little Fairview?”

Snow added that if such a reading room were built, the Bugler would provide books and publications.

The four local LDS wards accepted Snow’s challenge and took on the project in 1898. Church youth leaders Oleen Stohl and Minnie L. Snow were assigned to head the library movement, and fundraising began. Affluent citizens made small donations, and additional money was raised at church dances, dinners, and bazaars. City officials donated the north portion of the Court House plot for the building.

Construction of the one-story frame building was completed by December 1898. Total constructions costs were estimated at slightly more than $1,000. Because of insufficient funding, walls were not plastered, but lined with cloth then covered with wallpaper. The first bookshelves were installed along the north wall and were gradually expanded to cover the east wall as well.

When the library first opened, it contained about three hundred books. Church youth groups had obtained many of the books through door-to-door canvassing. School teacher Nephi Anderson sifted through donated books, and selected the best to be placed on library shelves.

Operating expenses were low, with a maximum annual budget of $200 to cover librarian’s salary, fuel, and books. Funds were generated by charging five cents a week for each book checked out. Additional funding was obtained through donations, benefit concerts, and theatrical productions.

John Baird became Brigham City’s first librarian on February 12, 1899, when the local telephone company placed the town’s only phone in the library. The telephone company was given the rent free in exchange for paying Baird’s small salary for his two jobs as telephone operator and librarian. When Baird left to go on a church mission, his sister Rena took his place. She left in June 1899 when the phone was moved.

A succession of people directed the library for brief periods. George Lorenzo Ingram Zundel was given the position of librarian to pass the time during an illness. He spent considerable time reading and studying and in September 1907, resigned from the library and enrolled in Brigham Young College.

In 1912, Oleen Stohl hired Ida Young as librarian at a monthly salary of $35 a month. She had obtained library training from the University of Utah and ran the library as a well-organized business. Miss Young was the last librarian hired by church leaders and the first to work under city management.

On April 1, 1913, Stohl deeded the library to Brigham City, and a Board of Trustees was appointed. The building was moved nearer the center of the plot and refurbished. A small monthly budget was provided, and Miss Young’s salary was increased to $60 a month.

The city spent $300 a year on new books, including a reference collection. Periodicals and newspapers were increased from 36 to 47 the first two years. Within four years, circulation grew from 5,000 to 15,000. Miss Young classified the library’s collection according to the Dewey Decimal System and trained her assistants in professional library skills. Two of her pupils, Elvira Hess and Henrietta Bott, took over as librarians after she left in 1914.

With the library’s rapid growth, city fathers saw the need for a modern new building and requested funding from the Andrew Carnegie Corporation. The construction cost of $12,500 was donated by the Carnegie organization with the city providing the building plot and funds for general maintenance of the library. A resolution accepting the offer was adopted by the City council July 10, 1914.

Carnegie Library in Brigham City, 1937The old library building, located in the center of the building plot, had to be removed. It was not torn down, but moved across the street and became a private residence. Librarian Henrietta Bott had the arduous task of moving all books and periodicals to the nearby Booth Building (later a wagon store) where they could be circulated while the new library was being built.

Construction on the library was completed and the building ready for occupancy by December 1915. An article in the Box Elder News of December 16, 1915 described the new facility as “a thing of beauty from within and from without. The interior arrangement is most convenient. The librarian’s desk stands in the center of the room facing the entrance, and the bookshelves are so arranged that they form an alcove for the Librarian’s office. Seated at the desk, the Librarian has a commanding view of the entire building.”

Interior top floor of the Brigham City Carnegie Library, 1918Miss Bott moved the library materials in the new building, and purchased more books so that the spacious new shelves were soon filled. The basement area jointly housed the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers relics and a small children’s library. In the mid-20s, the relics were moved to the Court House, and the entire space was used as a children’s library.

LaPreal Wight held the longest tenure as librarian from 1947 until her retirement in 1974. She continued adding to reference materials, church and history publications, fiction, and biographical works.

Karen Ann Howard, appointed head librarian January 1, 1976, updated the library’s book collection, and acquired such equipment as a photocopier and filmstrip projector. She also obtained a federal grant of $454,073 for expansion and remodeling of the library building. Construction on the project began November 12, 1977 and was completed and the facility dedicated November 11, 1978.

Mary Hansen, who joined the library staff as children’s librarian in 1977, took over as director in 1983, and the library moved into the age of technology. Mrs. Hansen introduced the first computerized checkout system and added educational videos to the library’s collection. She was instrumental in bringing an Adult Literacy Program to the library and hiring the first literacy coordinator.

Sue Hill was hired as library director in 1991 following Mrs. Hansen’s retirement. With her professional training and work skills acquired at the Utah State Library, Mrs. Hill set to work upgrading technology. She added more videos; CD-ROMs and CD-ROM machines, a computer cataloging and circulation system, patron card catalogs, and Internet access for patrons. Through her efforts the library [developed] one of the area’s best [audiobook] collections. She was also responsible for a cooperative loaning agreement with the Weber County Library, providing Brigham City and Weber County residents checkout privileges at each library.


The Second Hundred YearsNew addition entrance

Sue Hill continued as library director for several more years and continued to advance the Library’s collection with technology, including eBooks and downloadable audiobooks, and other online resources. In 2010 the Carnegie library building underwent a seismic upgrade which, because of the Library’s designation in 1984 as an historic site, had to be done in keeping with the historic nature of the Carnegie building. The old stairway leading from the 1977 addition into the Carnegie building was replaced by a beautiful new set of stairs featuring woodwork patterned after 1915 craftsmanship.  A large reference desk at the top of the stairs hearkens back to an early time in the Carnegie’s history. Hill also participated on a committee celebrating the Carnegie library’s centennial year in 2015. A few years later she saw the first 3D printer come into the Library. In December of 2019 Hill retired and Elizabeth Schow became the library director.

2020 brought with it the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic. The Brigham City Library was closed for nine weeks. Toward the end of this time, circulations restarted using curbside circulation and the quarantining of returned library materials. In mid-May the Library’s doors reopened to the public. That summer the library’s outdoor Wi-Fi was expanded to the east and west of the building. The library held much of its programming virtually or in a hybrid format, including story times, book discussions, and author panels.

Following the pandemic, Library services slowly returned to normal. Ms. Schow set a variety of building accessibility projects in motion. The tiered "story pit" section in the Children's area was raised to provide universal access to the picture book collection, and the aging elevator was replaced to increase its reliability. The exterior of the building was also rejuvenated with a new entryway statue, a generous memorial donation in honor of Miriam Mason, a former Library Board member. The Library's collection grew with the addition of a "Library of Things" to circulate physical items such as yard games, musical instruments, and educational toys.