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Hattie Thorton, far right, one of Ashland’s first librarians, gathers with friends in this 1890s photograph. Her daughter would donate $100,000 to the library in the 1970s.

A Century Of Stories

Andrew Carnegie made a simple proposition to Ashland residents on July 15, 1909, published as an open letter in the Ashland Daily Tidings newspaper.

"If the city agrees by resolution of council to maintain a Free Public Library at a cost of not less than $1,500 a year and provides a suitable site for the building, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to give $15,000 to erect a Free Public Library for Ashland," it stated.

But two City Council members balked at the thought of a tax levy for the project, observed historian Jan Wright of Talent.

"A lot of people did not like Carnegie, even though the city had petitioned him for funding for a library," she said, noting the council members indicated in an earlier Tidings article that they spoke "for a very large class of our citizenship which does not worship at the Carnegie shrine and does not believe in perpetuating the steel magnate's name at public expense."

But citizen support for the $15,000 grant, equivalent to some $350,000 today, won the day, Wright said.

The Ashland library at the corner of Gresham Street and Siskiyou Boulevard opened 100 years ago this month. The total cost was $17,673, Wright said.

"The building has continuously been used for the same purpose since 1912," she said. "It is one of the few Carnegie libraries in the state still being used for a library. And it has remained so much part of the community over the years."

A birthday bash is planned from noon to 4 p.m. at the library, at 410 Siskiyou Blvd. Sponsored by the Friends of the Ashland Public Library, the event will include a historic presentation on the library by Wright from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

Copies of Wright's booklet on the history of the library will be available for $5, along with Ashland library T-shirts for $10 each. All funds raised from the sales will go to benefit the library.

The Medford Carnegie library was completed earlier in the year before the Ashland library, but it was permanently closed when the new Medford library opened in 2005.

Both Medford and Ashland libraries shut their doors for six months in 2006 because of a county budget crunch. The closure of the Jackson County library system was the largest in national history.

Although much has changed in the past century, the original purpose for the library remains, said Amy Blossom, a 26-year veteran with the Jackson County library system and head librarian in Ashland.

That includes serving as a community center and an information source, she said, adding, "It just comes in different formats now."

Like most libraries today, in addition to its paper books, the Ashland branch houses e-books, DVDs and other electronic gadgetry, including high-speed wireless. There are also movies shown once a month, historic talks and other programs to help provide that sense of community.

The library draws between 500 and 900 people each day, Blossom said, noting that a rough estimate indicates there are nearly 20,000 library card holders, including folks living outside city limits.

While times have changed, many still use the library in a way used by bookworms of yore.

"Browsing is still a big part of library use," Blossom said. "A lot of pleasure to visiting a library is wandering along the shelves and discovering that new marvel.

"I believe books will continue to attract people to libraries," she added. "No question e-books are a major force. Yet our (book) circulation has been going up every year for the last five years."

When the library was last remodeled a decade ago, a special effort was made to retain the old Carnegie portion, she said of the area that was turned into the children's section.

After all, the children represent future library users, she said, adding that the number of young parents bringing in their small children is up.

"The future of the library will be the same in theory, but different in service," she said. "We will have more access through electronics so people can access information from their homes. We will continue to provide all the formats we can."

Blossom represents Ashland librarians over the past century who have worked hard to adjust to change while ensuring the facility retains its role as a community gathering place, said Wright.

The 23,000-square-foot building completed in 2002, which incorporates the original Carnegie structure, has ample room for both books and future needs, she said.

"I have a 5-year-old granddaughter who is very conversant with the Internet," she said of the youngster's library visits. "That's the way they learn and are going to learn in the future.

"But the library will always be a place to learn and exchange ideas," she added. "A library is still about infusing ideas and other perspectives into your life."

And she predicts there will still be patrons coming into browse for a good paper book.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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