Library History

Chadron Public Library c. 1911

The town of Chadron had been talking about the need for a public library long before it was ever possible. In January 1889, Dr. J. S. Romine, Mrs. Fannie O'Linn, and Mrs. Mary Hayward joined voices to call for a library association. The three met, developed a constitution, and agreed to canvass the community for members and contributions of money and books. Their goal was to found a public library which would be handed over to the city. Within one month, one hundred members had joined the association. By the sixth annual meeting of the library association in 1894, the librarian's report numbered the collection at 415 books. The idea seemed to have caught hold, and the library was prospering.

Then something went wrong. Between the account of the sixth annual meeting of the library association in the Dawes County Journal in February 1894 and an announcement by M.E. Smith of the start of a new library in the Chadron Journal of October 14, 1904, news of the library nearly disappeared from the papers. So too did the names of those most responsible for its founding. Nor did the city government during this period show any evidence of wanting to take over the library, which had been the initial goal of the library association.

Finally in early November 1907, one club stepped forward to renew a process which had begun with such promise in 1889 by placing a notice in the Chadron Journal to establish a free public library. An overflow crowd showed up for the December 1, 1907 meeting. They then attended to the business of drawing up a constitution for a library association, electing officers, and soliciting pledges and contributions of $73.95.

The library grew slowly but steadily over the next several years. One year after its opening, the 61 patrons who had paid five cents for a card, had grown to several hundred.

On March 4, 1910, Mayor Finnegan wrote to Andrew Carnegie for financial assistance. Mr. Carnegie granted the Mayor's request; however, there were two requirements that the town must meet. First, they must raise five hundred dollars annually to support the new library, and secondly, they must provide a suitable site for the new library. The site caused great controversy and a decision was not made until the following year.

It was finally decided that the Rickman lot on Fifth and Bordeaux would be the new site for the library. The library was designed by the firm of George Berlinghoff of Lincoln, who was conveniently in town designing the Normal College Building.

Chadron's Public Library is a two-storied, square, free from ornamentation, constructed with a simple white, pressed brick, and resembles similar Carnegie buildings all over the Midwest. On February 13, 1912, the library opened its doors with Mrs. Elizabeth O'Linn Smith as the librarian.

In 1960 the Board presented a proposal for an addition to the City Council but withdrew it due to insufficient time to get the proposal on the April ballot. Not until the following year was any progress made. The City Council put before the votes a $45,000 bond issues which the voters approved by a 62% majority on April 3, 1962. During the construction period the library was unable to operate normally and finally closed to patrons. In mid April 1964 an open house celebration of Chadron's newly expanded library was held, nearly five years after the idea was initially approached by the Board.

Chadron has advanced far beyond its early days as "a coarse frontier settlement." The completion in 1912 of a Carnegie-style building for the library that Miss Smith (later Mrs. Hayward) and Mrs. O'Linn were dreaming of in 1889 certainly has played a role in the community's development into a regional center of commerce, education and culture.

Physical, technological and cultural changes in the 94 years after the February 13, 1912 opening of the library building at the corner of Fourth and Bordeaux have convinced members of the Chadron Public Library Foundation that the time has come for a major expansion of the current facility. More than two years of background work have convinced Foundation members that more physical space and the ability to accommodate the latest in information technology is essential for the Chadron Public Library to maintain its role in the community's advancement into the 21st century.

Despite all of those problems, the library continues to serve the community well. The 2004-05 statistical report shows a total of 28,311 patron visits, or an average of 112 per day and 72,137 items circulated. Significantly, more than 7,300 people used or received technology (computer/internet) during the year. More than 2,500 Chadron residents are library card holders and the library is used by residents from beyond the city limits and by Chadron State College students.


Griffith, G. V. The Chadron Public Library: A Centennial History and "Chadron Library Foundation Explores Building Expansion," The Chadron Record.