Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

Driving along School Street in Kilmarnock, one observes the rapid progress being made on converting Lancaster Middle School into the new primary school. One of the casualties has been the small building between the school and the former library, which was removed early in the reconstruction process.

In 1961, that building, consisting of four rooms, became the first community library. Most of the books were donations from members of the community and the staff was largely composed of volunteers. Two attorneys, the late W. Garland Clarke and the late Dixon Foster, who later became the Circuit Court Judge, were the guiding lights in writing up the legal documentation to complete the necessary arrangements.

The little building became a hubbub of activity, fulfilling its mission of not only providing reading materials for the public, but also of bringing disparate people together, individuals who otherwise would never have met. The quality of the reading material was extraordinarily impressive, and what the little building’s holdings did not include, could be ordered through Interlibrary Loan.

With regard to the latter, in 1978 I was home for much of the year, on sabbatical from teaching at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. I was spending the leave time preparing articles for The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History (MERSH). I had anticipated having to make numerous trips to the Library of Congress to accomplish the necessary research to write the articles.

To begin the process, I went to the Kilmarnock library to see what was available locally. To my pleasant surprise, I found a significant presence of materials on Russian history. More importantly, the librarians told me that they had access to Interlibrary Loan and could get me many works within three days of my requesting them. Well, in the end, I did have to make a number of trips to the Library of Congress, but not nearly as many as I had initially anticipated. I also did much of the writing at one of the library’s desks. I am certain that all these years later, if readers of MERSH were told that some of the articles originated in that building, they would be incredulous.

Ere long, as the library progressed in serving the community, the need for larger quarters became apparent, leading to the construction of a new building next door.  For a library, running out of space is a good thing, and soon the new building needed to be expanded. The movement continued, leading ultimately to the move to the impressive present facility on Town Centre Drive, where the entry hall is far larger in square footage than the entire building that opened in 1961.

In the 1980s I served on the board of directors of the library, during which time I was amazed at how many advances had occurred since my days at the desk in the old building. That was the period of the expansion that doubled the size of the building. Following in the community service tradition, at that time many local woodworkers built the furnishings for the new building. For a year I suspect none of the woodworkers had time for any personal projects. When the expanded library opened, the handmade furnishings reflected the genuine community nature of the institution.

When I drive down School Street, I miss seeing the little “house of books,” but I am pleased to see the school’s advancement, and as I mentioned above, unlike an archive where the purpose is preservation, a library exists to be used. For the years that it served, that now gone building served handsomely.