May 16th marks the 100th birthday of the Hermiston Library, an event that will be celebrated with tours, cake, and entertainment by local high school bands.
Hermiston was one of 31 communities across Oregon fortunate enough to boast a Carnegie Library, built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. A total of 1,689 public Carnegie Libraries were built in the United States between 1886 and 1929.
The “Carnegie Formula” required financial commitments from the town that received the donation. Carnegie required public support rather than making endowments because, “An endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it. The rule has been violated which requires the recipients to help themselves. Everything has been done for the community instead of its being only helped to help itself.”
Carnegie required recipients to:
• Demonstrate the need for a public library;
• Provide the building site;
• Annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation; and,
• Provide free service to all.
In 1914, Hermiston met all of the requirements except one: The town’s population of barely 1,000 didn’t demonstrate sufficient need for a library. A local woman identified in the record as “Miss Prann” came up with a solution that satisfied Carnegie: Call it a branch of the Pendleton Library. According to library director Marie Baldo, “We were the smallest community at the time to get a Carnegie Library because we cheated and called ourselves a branch.”
Although a modern wing was built in 1989, the historic library building stands today much as it did a century ago, though it is now occupied by the city’s Building Department. To read the full story, head over to the East Oregonian.
Restore Oregon member Brian Johnson conducted additional research and found the following conclusion about library services in Hermiston. Brian is the grandson of the library’s architect.
May 16, 1914 was the start of Library services in Hermiston. At that time it was one of several civic organizations which shared space in what is now the RoeMarks building (built 1907). In 1915 a citizens group began seeking funding for a separate building, which included their successful contact with the Carnegie Foundation. Folger Johnson, of the Portland architectural firm Johnson & Mayer, was selected as architect for the new building. According to the Oregonian (4/7/1918) primary construction of the Hermiston Carnegie Library building was completed by April, 1918, but current Hermiston Library staff indicate the building did not actually open to the public until almost a year later in February, 1919. This building continued to serve as the Hermiston Library until May 1989 when the Library was moved to its current building.