My love of books is no secret. I still have a decades-old public library card, probably obtained when I was about 8 or 9, printed on card stock and housed in a small, paper envelope. It was one of my most prized possessions as a child. Today’s library cards can be scanned and swiped, but obtaining one is still an important rite of passage for so many.
In the past, we’ve explored the emotional responses that a love for books and for libraries can elicit from anyone who shares that same admiration. Our local library, the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, is a wonderful example of how a brick and mortar building can grow into a community of sorts, adapting to meet the needs of the public at-large, and embracing new technologies while reinforcing the importance of learning. This library, like many modern public libraries, has special initiatives geared toward younger children and teens, but also has a strong local history and genealogical research team. They are creating interactive experiences for the community through classes, meet-ups, and year-round programs. I am proud to see what an important part of our community the public library remains.
As it stands today, the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library is a two-story building that is modern and comfortable. It sits just adjacent to the spot where the public library of my childhood stood. This “new” library building was built about 12 years ago when our community’s needs outgrew the smaller space that the “old” library maintained. But, the history of our public library reaches back much farther than my own memory, to its origins in the late 1800s.
The first version of our modern library wasn’t actually a publicly accessed collection. Rather, a group of local women formed a membership or subscription library called The Ladies’ Library. This collection of books was first housed as part of the local Presbyterian college, located where our beautiful downtown branch of the Federal Post Office stands today. According to the library’s records, membership in The Ladies’ Library was $1 per year – not inexpensive at the time. When the college closed, The Ladies’ Library became known as The Southern Library. It was relocated a couple of times, to two of Florence’s historic buildings: the basement of our City Hall and the basement of the Lauderdale County Courthouse, both in our downtown area.
The library emerged from municipal basements and into the light of day when it was moved to Florence State Teachers College (now the University of North Alabama). In exchange for agreeing to house the growing library, the college’s students and teachers were given free access to the collection.
In 1945, civically-minded local business owner Louis Rosenbaum donated $25,000 for the building of a permanent home for the library. Rosenbaum, who owned Muscle Shoals Theaters, ran nine movie theaters and was a prominent community investor. (Son Stanley and his family are known for commissioning the only Frank Lloyd Wright-built structure in Alabama, here in Florence.) This seed money launched a successful fundraising mission that created the free, public library we enjoy today.
According to the library’s website, “In February 11, 1946, the subscription library became a free public library. Miss Evelyn Peeler was employed by the city-appointed board to serve as the library’s first administrator. While awaiting the completion of its new building, the library was moved once again into temporary quarters at the Hotel Reeder. On January 9, 1949, the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library opened its doors at 218 North Wood Avenue, an address that was to be its home for the next 53 years.” The current building has been open since 2002 and continues to expand offerings and programs.
Today, the library is filled with patrons of all ages. It houses around 100,000 books, audiobooks, CDs, and movies. On my last trip, I visited the on-site coffee shop, Bookmarks, where they were promoting Downton Abbey with some delicious tea specials. The library itself offers courses in an incredible number of subjects, from computer software, to travel, to driver safety; you can even “check out” guitars and take DVD lessons. The local knitting group meets at the library, alongside discussions, film screenings, and book club meetings.
We encourage you to seek out your local public library offerings. It is likely that you will find new opportunities to connect with others in your community; we think you will be inspired to explore collections, classes, and growing community groups. For more information, or to find information on your local public library, visit here.