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The Challenges

Categories: 150 Years of Libraries

In order to meet the growing demand for books, a branch of the Public Library was established on the east side in 1915. The Eastern Branch started in a remodeled bank building, moved to a small building on Orange Street, and later settled on East Michigan Avenue.

pg_17a CHALLENGES 1 Eastern branch

The Eastern Branch was just a very small wooden building but I thought it was fabulous because you didn’t own too many books – you got them for Christmas and birthdays and things like that – and I just remember friendly librarians and Grandma taking books home too for my mother and for the rest of the family. We were all readers.
— Interview with Connie Hobde: 2014


The decade of the 50s was one of growth in library services. The Jackson County Library Program quickly outgrew its space and moved to a new building on West Avenue in 1954. The “neighborhood branch,” or what’s more commonly known as the Bookmobile, provided easy access to books. The County also had a similar service.

Every other week, a large brown bus pulled into our small parking lot with the promise of a new adventure in books. Entering the bookmobile was like entering a sanctuary. Oh the decisions to be made! I had an overwhelming feeling of panic! I wanted to choose the “right” book within the short time allotted to us! I thought that the librarian had the best job in the world! I assumed she drove the bus home and sat in her driveway, reading books all night long!
— Letter from Mrs. Betsy Orrison: 2014

pg_17b CHALLENGES 11 - bookmobile

Bookmobile, Eastern Branch, Orange Street circa 1955

Lots of times while I was driving, the girl who was working
with me – she sat at a little table, kind of like desktop, right
behind the driver – she’d be getting the records of where we
were going and what books had been loaned out and how
many and getting them filed . . . Women didn’t have to dress
up so they’d dash down the street to the bookmobile to
check out a novel or two.
Interview with Mrs. Bessie England: 2014

Duplication of services and financial stresses led to talks about merging the County and Public Library systems. In 1970, voters rejected the idea. Some feared the city would lose control to the county, but others chafed at the fact that they were taxed by both the city and county to support the libraries. But from the librarians’ perspective the budget situation was dire, Lorraine Butchart, Acquisitions Director, recalls:

If you think back to the tone of the 60s, 70s, any time the municipalities had financial difficulties, the first place they would cut would be the libraries . . . so we were always on the chopping block. Both library systems had very strong directors prior to that time, Clare Sergeant and Eudocia Stratton, and those two people were very adamant about supporting the agencies of the government that they represented but both
faced the same peril of no money. It became apparent that the only way public library service was going to survive in Jackson County was for a merger.
— Interview with Lorraine Butchart: 2014

No Funds

No Funds

Joseph Warren, the City Manager, called me into his office and he said, Jack, ‘you’re gonna have to put a committee together and the only way we’re gonna survive this is if we merge the libraries’. . . . Finally, the vote came, and we were successful. Interview with Jack Daball: 2014

It was no small task, in 1977, to find ways to unite two separate administrative systems, space, finances, collections, and two separate staffs with separate contracts. The process, led by a newly appointed Jackson District Library Board, took almost a year. After an intense search, David Leamon was hired to head
the new Jackson District Library.

And I would say that if you look at the directors who were
involved in the district library after the consolidation –
David Leamon had to create a new image, and he did that
very well in his ten years. Virginia Lowell brought us into the
technology world, Richard Douglass, Bessie Burnett,
Luren Dickinson – they had to go out and they had to
integrate themselves into the community.
Interview with Lorraine Butchart: 2014

In 1993, the library joined the computer age and a partnership with Jackson Community College. Automation replaced the card catalog, collaboration replaced duplication of services, and technology brought the entire system up to date.

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Author: The Jackson District Library

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