Olney Community Library and Arts Center: Then and Now
The moment you walk through the doors, history taps you on the shoulder. As you walk toward the information desk, the spirits of the founders welcome you. Your excitement grows as you eagerly await the journey of discovering something new, something amazing within the pages of the books that beckon you. It’s easy to imagine that Benjamin Franklin felt the same way when he discussed the concept of a lending library with his friends in 1727. Similarly, centuries later a group of friends in Olney realized the importance of a community library. A group of women known as the Jr. Altruistic Club synchronized their visions and brought to life Olney Public Library in 1926.
Clifton Key, president of Olney Community Library and Arts Center (OCLAC), Jeanie Spivey, former director of OCLAC, Kathy Gilmore, former director of OCLAC and Lori Cox, the current director of OCLAC gathered to discuss the library then and now. This group of colleagues and friends shared their memories of the library. They agreed that the importance of the library in Olney is undeniable. Their stories stirred up laughter and served as a reflection of how it all began.
The first library was in one room in City Hall. Etched in the cornerstone on the building are the words “Founded by the Jr. Altruistic Club, The Olney Public Library, 1926.” During that time, each school had a library in addition to the downtown library. In 1971 as part of the Cities of Tomorrow Project, all the libraries were combined, and the Olney Community Library and Arts Center arose. In spring 1971, A.G. Matlock along with other library board members, founders and interested parties developed the Olney Idea, which was presented in the form of a strategic plan that illustrated the visions and goals of the library board.
An excerpt from the “Olney Idea” written by A.G. Matlock states, “The Community Center of which we speak is a dream that must be experienced and explored by a great many of us before there can be any arrival of reality…As to whether or not our dream comes true is dependent upon many factors. Do we need it? Want it? Are we willing to work for it? Pay for it? There are costs, and there are struggles.”
Almost 50 years later, we are facing the same questions that Matlock asked in 1971. We shout “Yes” to the question of need, and “Yes” to the question of want. However, we must ask ourselves are we still willing to work for it and pay for it. We must acknowledge the costs and the struggles associated with keeping this dream of a community library and arts center alive.
Let’s show our support for our public library before, during and after National Library Week April 7 through April 13. Olney Enterprise will publish a series of articles written by various residents about the library then and now to reiterate the message of its importance and its value in our community.