Monday, January 25, 2016

History of Russell Library, Part II

Part 1 of this history covered the period from the establishment of Russell Library in 1876 to the resignation of its second Director, Willis K. Stetson, in 1887.  Part II covers the Library from 1887 to 1926, under the leadership of its third and fourth Directors.

Laura F. Philbrook, 1887-1917

Laura Philbrook
Laura F. Philbrook was appointed Director in 1887 and led the Library through an extended period of expansion and growth.  Her tenure began inauspiciously; the Russell Library Company’s endowment income had never been adequate to support library operations.  Until her death in 1883 Frances Russell had regularly contributed funds to make up the shortfall.  

In 1895 the City of Middletown began providing financial support to the Library in the amount of $1,000 to help provide books for elementary school children.  Perhaps connected to this was the decision in 1896 to reduce from 14 to 10 the minimum age to use the Library.  Russell began to send rotating collections to the schools in 1911.  To serve Middletown’s many ethnic communities, books in Italian, Polish, and Swedish were added to the collection.  By the end of 1917, the collection had grown to 20,000 volumes.

South Farms branch
For the first 20 years of the Library’s existence, the Library staff consisted solely of the Director and the Custodian; in 1898 the first Library Assistant was hired. Two new branches were established--the South Farms branch in 1908 and the Westfield branch in 1911.  From 1908-1909 the Library underwent its first major renovation, and the grand lecture hall was converted into working space to service the branches.  The Library installed its first telephone in 1912.

During World War I, Russell Library did its bit for the war effort, helping in campaigns to support food aid, the Red Cross, United War Work and Liberty Bonds. The Library collected and donated 3,000 books to Camp Meade in Maryland, which opened in 1917 to train troops before deployment in Europe.  

In 1917 Miss Philbrook resigned, and Edna Wilder was appointed Director of Russell Library.

Edna H. Wilder, 1917-1926

Edna Wilder
Shortly before Edna Wilder became Director, the Connecticut Public Library Commission conducted a survey of Russell Library and recommended major changes, including a new classification system for adult and children’s books and the withdrawal of books that were out-of-date or in poor condition.

Miss Wilder implemented these changes and many more.  In 1917 a separate Children’s Department was established.  A new, streamlined checkout system was established and Library hours increased from 45 hours to 60 hours per week.  In 1918 a circulating framed print collection was begun, followed by a musical score collection in 1921.  

The City of Middletown had continued to provide some financial support since 1895, but in 1921 the ties between the Library and the City were strengthened with an amendment to the Charter that provided for City participation in the administration of the Library. 

In the summer of 1925 Wilder's health began to fail.  She suffered a nervous breakdown in December and was admitted to the Connecticut State Hospital.  Sadly, on March 8, 1926, Edna Wilder took her own life. 

Later that year, Nathaly E. Newton became Director of the Russell Library.

--End of Part II--


Mr. Fixit said...

I believe the photo of the South Farms branch library is reversed. There was nothing on the left side (facing Main Street Extension). On the right side there was a commercial establishment (a restaurant in the 50's and 60's.

pat said...

Thank you for your comment, Mr. Fixit--it is very possible that the photograph is reversed! We appreciate your catching this.