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Raisin Capital of the World: Library is an important part of Selma history
Raisin Capital of the World

Raisin Capital of the World: Library is an important part of Selma history

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Bob Allen is the executive director of the Selma District Chamber of Commerce.

Selma’s history of a library began when in January 1887 when an attempt was made to establish a reading room.  Success came the following year when on February 25, 1888 the Selma Reading Room Association was organized comprised of Judge W. F. Fowler, the Rev. I. A. Gaither, C.W. Stowall, L.A. Carter, L.V. Maxwell, W.S. Van Emon, Sarah Warner, Beldin Warmer and Judge E.E. Shepard.

Donation of some books allowed for the reading Room to become a tiny library. Selma apparently was still too small to support the endeavor and the first reading room closed.  The concept was reorganized by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which opened a larger reading room in the Kutner building on East Front Street October 18, 1889.  A few months later the library was moved to Tucker Street. Again, the lack of interest forced the room’s closing in November 1895.  The struggle to maintain a library continued until July 1902 when it was turned over to the Selma Ministerial Association.

The Wednesday Literary Club, one of the Valley’s first women's organizations, took over the library in October 1903 and was responsible for the permanency that followed.   The Club members started asking the City Trustees to assume the library in 1898 and in July 1900, they suggested asking Andrew Carnegie, the nation is leading benefactor, to help Selma’s financial needs. The fundraising efforts resulted in not reaching the financial obligation for the city.

In October 1904, a library board was formed of Julian W. Hudson, John W. Aiken, E.E. Shepard, Mrs. T.B. Mathews and Mrs. J.S. Pelton.  They organized in 1905 and by March had a library opened for the public to enjoy in a small building leased from George Otis on High Street.

The board made an application to Carnegie and city trustees agreed to help.  In March, the city had a response from Carnegie: “If the city agrees by the resolution of the council to maintain a Free Public Library at a cost of not less than $600 a year and provides a suitable site for the building, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to furnish $6,000 to build a free public library for Selma.”

Many librarians managed the Selma Library.  The first to serve was Mary Freeland who was later replaced by Miss Edith Staley, who was paid $35 a month and was expected to take care the janitorial duties.  She served more than 38 years before retiring in 1947.  She was replace by Mary Louise Cleveland who served 25 years in that position.

The Fresno County became involved in the library by rotating 50 books through a special shelf for Selma Readers in 1910.   On March 12, 1913, the library became part of the Fresno County Library System.

Thanks to Randall McFarland for providing this part of Selma History in his Book, Centennial Selma - Biography of a California Community’s First 100 Years.

Bob Allen is the Executive Director of the Selma Chamber of Commerce.

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