BALLINGER — At one time, the Carnegie Library was in very poor shape with holes in the plaster, leaks and a swaybacked roof beam. Of the 32 Carnegie libraries in Texas, only a handful are left. These silent bastions of knowledge, revered since ancient times, seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate in modern times as people turn to phones and search engines.
Libraries have stood as witness to history from Ashurbanipal to Alexandria to Constantinople to Trajan. Libraries have not only watched history being made, they have taught it to generations of man through its books and other literature, whether on scrolls of papyrus or in a bound leather covered book.
Ballinger’s Carnegie Library is more than 100 years old, still going strong and getting better every day, thanks to Kay Smith, a dedicated library board and the people of Ballinger. They were not going to let the library become just a memory, as 28 of the original Carnegie libraries have become. Some of the Carnegie library buildings around the country were demolished to build other structures; some were destroyed by fire and never rebuilt, while others were turned into venues for museums or administration offices and chambers of commerce.
Smith is the president of the library board for the Carnegie Library. She is a humble person and doesn’t talk about herself or the hard work she has put in on behalf of the library. Smith always credits others for the success of the library.
“Our board has done a tremendous job taking care of the library,” Smith said.
Caring for the library is an ongoing endeavor and one the board members take to heart as they apply for new grants and plan fundraisers.
The library was constructed in 1908 with a $17,500 grant from Andrew Carnegie. It started with a letter written on Dec. 16, 1907 by the Rev. George Fender, pastor of Ballinger Presbyterian Church, addressed to Carnegie. Two months later he received a response and a check for $12,500. It would take more money to construct the library so Carnegie granted an additional $5,000 a few months later. The charter was granted in 1908 by the State of Texas and construction commenced.
On May 6, 1911, the library was officially dedicated and opened to much fanfare. Unfortunately, Carnegie ceased funding libraries due to World War I. A book about Carnegie quoted him as saying, “I do not think that the community which is not willing to maintain a library had better possess it. It is only the feeling that the library belongs to every citizen, richest and poorest alike, that gives it a soul, as it were. The library [sic] buildings which I am giving are the property of all members of the community which maintain them.”
The citizens of Ballinger stepped up to the plate and took those words to heart. The board and supporters are maintaining it and the library truly does belong to every citizen in Ballinger.
The Ballinger Carnegie Library board members are Kay Smith (president), Sue Morrish vice president), Carla Campbell (secretary), Darlene Kelly (treasurer), along with other members Archie Gallant, Carolyn Slaughter, Iris Blake, Mike Riley, Suzann Riley, Shelly Holden, Melody Gallant and Jeff Smith. The ladies who keep the library going on a day-to-day basis are librarian Carolyn Kraatz, assistant librarian Amber Self and custodian Sara Esquivel. They all work together to ensure the library not only lives on, but also thrives.
When you first walk into the library, you feel like you’re walking into the study at some vintage, cultivated mansion. The library is beautifully lit with natural light in addition to the interior lighting, most of the furniture is wood grain and it’s set up for everyone from children to adults. They have computers there that kids can use to play games that have no internet access so that you don’t have to worry about what your children are seeing. There are also computers for adults.
The library recently had an open house that was attended by many people from the community. City Councilman Rick Morrish showed up to take in the event and was pleased with the library’s progress. Refreshments were served to the guests and everyone got a chance to see and learn more about the elegant library. Grants and donations totaling $190,858.49 have kept the library going. Smith and the board find grants and apply for them, then use the money for the upkeep and improvements to the library. Single donations have been as much as $50,000. Some of the grants are annual grants.
Smith talked about the grant money and board, saying, “We’ve received grant money from several sources and they were very generous. It all goes to benefit the library. We have a really good library board and they work very hard for the library.”
The improvements are not just to the interior.
“We want to do some landscaping and we’re looking for money to do that,” Smith said. One journalist came to Ballinger and wrote an article for Hill Country magazine. Smith herself goes to civic groups and talks about the library its programs. They have had several successful programs at the library and even had a NASA exhibit at one time.
The goal is to continue the programs while adding more, along with the other work they want to get done such as the landscaping and reupholstering the chairs. The library is a symbol of knowledge and the pursuit of it. Libraries hold mystery, intrigue, science, emotions, religion and all manner of knowledge within the pages of the books that it is home. Keeping up the library as a place that we can be proud of is an honorable endeavor. Without the hard work of the board and employees, without the support of the community and without the generous donations needed to keep it going, our community would not enjoy a richness that is disappearing in other cities and towns across the nation.
The Carnegie Library is located at 204 N. 8th Street and the phone number is (325) 365-3616.