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Wheeling Library Association, 1880

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▼ Newspaper Article

-from The Wheeling Intelligencer, January 31, 1880


Shall it Wind Up or Take a New Lease of Life? -- A Turning Point in the Affairs of the Institution.


Nearly twenty-one years ago the Wheeling Library Association was incorporated by the Circuit Court of this county, for the purpose of maintaining a library in this city and promoting useful knowledge. Geo. Baird, N. Richardson, D. Bayha, Chas. Marshall, J. Boone McLure, Joseph Seybold, C. W. Russell, A. Loring, J. G. Baker, John McCulloch, J. H. Pendleton and Geo. W. Sights were the incorporators. Its first officers were: Alonzo Loring, President; Nathaniel Richardson, Vice President; Geo. Baird, Secretary; W. Brockunier, Treasurer, and Michael Reilly, John Hall, J. G. Baker, W. J. Bates, D. Bayha, James Wilson, T. H. Logan, N. Pigman and Chas. W. Russell, Directors. Its capital stock was divided into shares of $50 each, and the amount of such stock was not to be less than $5,000, or more than $60,000, and it was authorized to hold land not exceeding one acre in extent. Under these conditions the association began business and became an institution that reflected credit upon those interested in it and the city in which it was founded. The selection of books as a rule was judiciously made, and both the library and reading room attached were liberally patronized by both stockholders and subscribers under the rules laid down by the Directors. The rooms formerly occupied by the Association in the Odd Fellows building were among the most pleasant in the city, and none of the city institutions made a better impression upon visitors or exerted a better influence on the community.


Unfortunately the managers of the library paid too little attention to the matter of securing a regular and steady income from all who made use of it. The plan adopted to meet running expenses and provide for additions and improvements was to issue fresh stock whenever money was needed, payable in yearly instalments if desired, and as these yearly instalments amounted to but little more than the price of yearly tickets furnished to subscribers, most of the subscribing patrons of the Association took stock in that way. The result was when the stockholders [---scratched film--] the whole of those interested in the library, and their stock was paid up, the association found itself without the means of keeping up the library on the scale which had been adopted. Lectures and entertainments were tried as a means of raising funds without any considerable success, and the association, still finding its expenses runnning beyond its income, moved into its present quarters in the Capitol building and instituted a system of vigorous retrenchment in expenditures in the hope of making the library self-sustaining. The salary of the librarian was cut down from $500 to $300 per annum, the purchase of new books materially lessned and the supply of current literature in the shape of magazines and newspapers considerably decreased. By the utmost economy the Board of Directors last year managed to keep the outlay within the income, the former aggregating $606.98 and the latter $609.12, leaving the balance of $2.14 in the Treasurer's hands.


This was the situation when the present Board of Directors took hold last October, and the prospect for the future seemed exceedingly unpromising unless some new means could be devised for increasing the revenues of the association. The expenses had been reduced to a minimum, the item of rent having, through the kindness of Gov. Mathews, been removed entirely; the purchase of new books had been restricted to $60 for the year, and that of newspapers and periodicals to $68; all salaries except that of librarian had been stricken off, and that fixed at the lowest point at which a capable and responsible officer could be secured, and yet the income, including a considerable number of stock subscriptions, which expired with the year, had barely been sufficient to meet this limited outlay, and there was no reasonable expectation that it would again be sufficient, even if the same cramped and unsatisfactory way of running the library were continued for another year.


In this emergency the Directors, after canvassing the situation, pretty unanimously agreed either that some plan must be found which would enable the library to go on in a manner satisfactory to the public and the stockholders, or it might as well be stopped before any indebtedness was incurred and the existing dissatisfacation over the management increased. The plan of public entertainments for its benefit was rejected because they had not proven successful heretofore, and even should they prove successful now the relief would be but temporary. A good many also held that it was not fair to impose the labor of getting up such entertainments year after year upon a few persons, and as the institution was not a public charity or charge, but an association gotten up for the especial benefit of its members and subscribers, they doubted their right to ask public aid. Some of them held further that if there was not sufficient interest manifested in the community in literary matters to furnish a respectable support to a subscription library, it might as well be abandoned first as last, and the question might as well be solved now as at any time.


The result of a comparison of these views was manifested in a meeting of the Board of Directors at the library rooms last night, which will probably be decisive in its character.

It was unanimously determined that unless the stockholders were willing to contribute something annually to the support of the library it was not worth while to attempt to continue it further, and the Secretary was instructed to have presented to all stockholders or their representatives, for their acceptance or rejection the following

AGREEMENT:WHEREAS, The Wheeling Library Association has about exhausted the means of further carrying out the objects of its organiz [---scratched film---] must soon close its doors, unless its stockholders will contribute annually to its support; now, therefore, we the undersigned stockholders of said association in consideration of the efforts of the Board of Managers, to keep the same alive, do hereby agree with said association that we each will pay to said association the annual sum of two dollars, payable on the 1st day of January of each year, so long as we each continue to hold said stock, and in case of the failure of any one of us, for twelve months to pay said annual sum, we each, so failing, agree to relinquish, and do hereby relinquish and transfer to said association the stock held by us, respectively, the same to be cancelled, and our interests therein to cease, and our liability hereunder to determine. But this agreement shall not be binding unless a majority of the holders of stock sign the same.


The effect of this agreement, when signed by all stockholders or their representatives, would be to establish a lien upon each share of stock to the amount of two dollars annually. So long as present stockholders, however, hold two or more shares of stock for which they have already paid or become liable, they would be asked to contribute but two dollars a year to the running expenses of the library. Should they transfer a portion of such shares to others the two dollar liability would attach to each share so transferred. Meantime the ownership and control of the library by stockholders, would remain as at present: annual subscribers, not stockholders, merely having the use of the library under such rules as should thereafter be adopted.


It is believed that this plan, if adopted, would again put the library upon a firm and satisfactory basis. There are about four hundred stockholders, and if the annual subscription of stockholders, and those who do not desire to purchase stock, but would like to use the library, were fixed at two dollars, it is estimated that a steady revenue of from twelve to fifteen hundred dollars a year could be obtained. This, under the present arrangements, would suffice to pay the librarian a salary that would justify such officer furnishing his or her entire time to the library, and keeping it open at all convenient hours. It would furnish all the most desirable publications wanted by readers, and a tempting array of current literature in the way of periodicals and daily newspapers, and it would keep the present stock of books in good order and condition. In addition to this it would keep up smoking, chess and conversation rooms, if these were desired, and such rooms could probably be obtained without additional cost. In a word it would suffice to give us a library and reading rooms that would be an advantage and an attraction.


There is a good deal of idle talk about the library, which has little foundation in fact. It has been stated that a considerable proportion of the books are trashy, and that some are not fit to be there, but if any one will take the trouble to look over the catalogue and the shelves, which now include nearly seven thousand volumes, they will see that there is no occasion for this sort of talk. It is true that a considerable proportion of the books are works of fiction, but a majority of the novels are standard, and there are none that are subject to any other indictment than can be found against novels as a whole. Poetry, biography, travels, literary and natural history and philosophy, are well represented, and the collection as a whole is one of which no one need be ashamed. All it needs to make it capable of furnishing all the benefits that were originally expected from it is a general cooperation in some such plan as the one above proposed.

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