A Brief History of the Hays Public Library

The Library's Beginnings in Hays

At the turn of the 20th century, the library movement began to make itself felt in this western region. Hays women began to realize the need for a cultural center where people could gather, read, and learn. A literary organization begun in 1895, the Saturday Afternoon Club, established a reading room in 1899 as a civic project. Each member contributed $1 annually for its support, as well as furniture, books, and magazines.  This facility was so well received that the Saturday Afternoon Club Library Association was formed in June 1899. A library was established and opened October 6th, 1900. It was housed in an upstairs room above a store located at what is now 12th and Main. Each user was charged $1 a year. Many citizens gave money and materials to the project. Entertainments were given such as oyster suppers, dramatics, lectures, dances, and musical programs to raise money for the ever-increasing requirements of the library. Use and greater needs of the community resulted in the SAC turning the library over to the City of Hays in 1904. It was to be known as the Hays Free Public Library. The one stipulation was that one half the members of the Library Board should be from the SAC. The Ellis County Commissioners granted the use of the lot on the east side of the Courthouse Square for a building site.

The 1911 Carnegie Library

The Library Association had begun negotiations for obtaining a Carnegie Foundation grant for a library building in 1902. A donation of $8,000 was received from the Carnegie Foundation in 1910 for the building of a library. The building was completed and opened to the public July 22, 1911, one of hundreds of Carnegie libraries throughout the United States. Kathryn McLain was the first librarian, followed by Sara Fields. These ladies were aided by Teresa Binder, who later became the first children's librarian of the Hays Public Library. The Kansas Room had early beginnings. Historical materials pertaining to Hays, Ellis County, and Kansas were kept in a special collection from early days of the library. Many newspaper clippings were mounted in scrapbooks which were later indexed for better access to their contents. Other clippings and manuscripts were filed in a vertical file. This collection gave rise to the idea of a Kansas Room. The old lounge in the basement of the Carnegie library was no longer used as such. The room was cleared, and volunteers painted the room and built shelves in it. The board bought a desk, a steel file cabinet was donated, and the Kansas Room was on its way.
The Children's Library was at first tucked away in the southeast corner of the Carnegie library and was a part of the adult department. In the 1940s it was moved to the basement into what had been the assembly room. It became the Children's Department with the assistant librarian in charge during the hours it was open. In the 1950s, it became necessary as well as desirable to renovate this rather cheerless room. A light, airy, cheerful room resulted, and a full-time children's librarian was designated.
In 1965, the Kansas legislature established seven regional library systems with the basic purpose of extending library services to the un-served and of improving services where it already existed. With the aim of cooperative sharing, Ellis County joined 17 other counties united under the name of the Central Kansas Library System (CKLS).

The 1968 Library

The Carnegie library building which was opened in 1911 was spacious and more than adequate for the needs of the day. At first, only the upper floor was used for library purposes. The lower floor was used for a public lounge, rest rooms, and club accommodations. By 1964, all space was crammed. Shelves had been added upstairs until the upper floor sagged dangerously from the weight of the books. The basement, where the children gathered, was so crowded as to become a fire hazard.
After much planning and campaigning, a new library was put to a referendum in the 1965 fall elections, and it passed. This was quite extraordinary, since up to that time only one other city in Kansas - Manhattan - had ever gotten a favorable reply to a new library on the first ballot. The old Carnegie library, a "castle" and a refuge to many, was razed to give rise to the new facility, which opened December 8, 1968. At the opening of this facility five full-time librarians were employed. Hays Public Library prospered and grew at a great rate. By the time the 1968 library was in the planning stage, the Kansas Room was filled to overflowing. What was deemed adequate space for this specialized library was incorporated into the plans. It became the specified Kansas Materials Resource Center for the newly-organized CKLS. The Kansas Room was twice enlarged in the 1968 building before the 2004 expansion. When the 1968 library was planned, the entire second floor was designed for a children's library - one of the largest in the state. With the love and devotion of the children's librarians, this facility expanded into the useful desirable library it is today.

2004 Carnegie Replica Restoration and Expansion

Between 1982 and 1990, library circulation escalated by 75%. It became clear that the 1968 facility would not provide adequate community resources for much longer. Expansion was considered, but the Ellis County Commission did not originally approve of the project. The board considered instead pursuing a new building. In 1997 a bond issue vote to build a new library on the outskirts of town failed in the third-largest defeat in the city's history. Temporary relief was found in the 1998 remodeling of the lower floor which replaced the meeting room with bookshelves. Following the remodeling, the board agreed to resurrect the original expansion plan and to renovate the first and second floors of the 1968 building. That same month, the first Hennen's American Public Library Rating Index ranked Hays Public Library fourth in the nation among public libraries serving populations of 10,000 to 99,999. This not only thrilled the board and staff, but served as a valuable asset to the building campaign. Needs for the new facility were identified - a new Young Adult Department, a Visual and Performing Arts Gallery, and an expanded Kansas Room. The Ellis County Commission warmly offered their land and in April 2001 the city voted to approve a sales tax "for the purpose of expanding, renovating, furnishing, and equipping the Hays Public Library". The Hays Public Library Trust formed in 2000 to finance "major endeavors". First on its list was raising $700,000 in private donations for a Carnegie Library replication exterior. Construction of the addition began June 1, 2002, followed by renovation of the 1968 facility's first and second floors. The grand opening of the newly renovated and expanded Hays Public Library took place February 14, 2004.

Recent History

The Ross and Marianna Beach Foundation has given a grant of $20,000 to the Hays Public Library for purchasing books about art, autobiography, biography, children, culture, history, music, science, and travel. This extraordinarily generous collection development grant was unexpected and critical to the acquisition of works in the areas of art and culture.