History of Washington County Library – Contributed By The Washington County Library staff
Although Washington County is a historic county, there was no library service in the county until 1938 and no county wide service until 1948. Through the diligent efforts of the Ladies Civic League, the first library, the Potosi Public Library was established. It was located in a room in the basement of the courthouse and staffed by volunteers. The “Library Project Committee”, a group of dedicated supporters, drew up a series of resolutions to guide the direction of the library, and a Library Board was proposed.
Through the years the Library Board supervised policy and selection of books. On June 1, 1938, the library opened with a collection of 600 books. Mrs. Francis Dessie and Mrs. C. R. Crow served as two of the first Librarians. By the end of June 1938, the library had 1,000 books catalogued. The library struggled financially for almost ten years. Due to a lack of funding, the Library Board considered a County Library.
In 1946 the 63rd General Assembly of Missouri changed the name of Missouri Library Commission to Missouri State Library. At this time, opportunities for Library service to outlying areas was increased through donated bookmobile service. Washington County would be one of the first twelve counties in Missouri to receive a demonstration bookmobile. During this time, a push was made for a county tax.
On April 6, 1948, the residents rewarded the tireless efforts of a group of dedicated folks to provide a library to the community. A library tax of one-mill was passed. This event created the Washington County Library. Unfortunately, the revenue would not be available for a year which caused a financial problem. Due to this circumstance, the Board met with Ozark Regional Library on August 16, 1948, and requested to join with the Regional Library. The application was formally accepted on August 26, 1948, making the library a member of a five county system. This cooperative effort lasted for five years, but on April 30, 1953, Washington County withdrew from the Ozark Regional Library System.
In 1954, the Library moved into a section of the Kirsch TomBoy Supermarket building. In 1964, it relocated to a new building located on the corner of West High and South Mine. It was at this location that the library burned on March 30, 1965. The rebuilding of the collection and relocation once again became tremendous burden, but under the leadership of the Board and Librarian, Margaret Casey, the library began another rebuilding process. After the disaster, another Tax Levy was proposed. It was voted and passed April 16, 1966 to give the Library an additional one-mill tax increase, which enabled the library to rebuild the collection and relocate.
On December 21, 1967, once again the library would have a huge set back when a tornado struck and destroyed much of the library which had now relocated to a newly remodeled building in what is now Austin Plaza. Under the leadership of the Board and Librarian, Margaret Casey, an evaluation of the damage was made. The Library proceeded to get on its feet again. The new location would be in the lower level of a super market across the street from where the library had blown away.
Tragedy struck again on August 16, 1968 when Mrs. Casey passed away from a cerebral thrombosis. Mrs. Casey had done a tremendous job leading the library through many phases of rebuilding and development. In February 1969, Donna Doughty was appointed Librarian. She served in this position until 1976.
In 1976, Esther Mitchell was appointed Librarian after Mrs. Doughty resigned. Mrs. Mitchell had served as Bookmobile Librarian for many years. Upon her retirement in 1991, Dorothy Lore was appointed Librarian. She had been with the library since 1978. Upon her retirement in December 2013, Missy Mercer was appointed Librarian. She has been with the library since 1988.
During the mid-1970’s, the Library Board purchased the existing building which was a much larger building than previous locations. This acquisition eventually allowed the Library to expand library services by offering meeting rooms for clubs and organization on the lower level. It has had many face lifts from a new gable roof, the addition of a genealogy room, an elevator, a new children’s wing, two additional meeting rooms, and in 2010, a reading loft was added. At present, there are five meeting rooms.
The library is a different world today, beyond printed books. Magazines, newspapers, audio and large print books, ebooks, and DVD’s are also included in the collection. Access to services such as the internet, Wi-Fi, copy machines, a fax machine and a laminator round out the benefits to patrons. Through the years the library has made many transitions with the strong support of a determined community. Today the collection as grown from 600 books in 1938 to over 74,500 in 2018.