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‘Checking out’ the Muir Library

By Staff | Feb 14, 2009

Muir Library has served the area for more than 110 years.

There are many chapters in the Muir Library story.

Chapter one begins in 1898, in a frame building, when the Ladies’ Club of Winnebago opened a reading and game room with Elsie Sutton Lobb as the first librarian.

Through gifts and purchases by the townspeople, a collection of books was accumulated by the Ladies’ Club. By 1903, the site was turned over to the city of Winnebago. The city levied a two-mill tax for the care of the building. Some years later, George Eygabroad gave $1,000 to purchase more books and magazines for the library.

In 1914, James Damon and John Sharp purchased from Harvey Welch a small wooden building on the present site of the Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall and donated it to the city to be used for a library as long as needed and then the property was to revert to the church. During this second chapter of the library story, the traveling library had increased its book collection while also reducing its operational expenses.

But by September 1951 a new chapter began, the building was condemned and the library facilities were moved to a room in the city hall which had previously been used as a ladies public lounge. Over 4,000 books were in place on the library shelves by the time the move was completed. This remained the site of the library until 1966.

In 1966, Mr. and Mrs. Harry S. Muir built a new building at 36 Main Street North and gave it as a gift to the citizens of Winnebago to be used as a library. Named in their honor, the Muir Library has served the townspeople for over 40 years and remains a Main Street landmark.

Since 1966, there .have been many more chapters added to bring the Muir Library story up to date.

Currently, the Muir Library is a member of the Traverse de Sioux system out of Mankato. The 1,936 foot building, remodeled in 1993 when it expanded into the City’s Community Room, houses over 23,000 materials. This does not include the hundreds of paperbacks also available for the public to read.

“We don’t have room for paperback duplicates,” says Judy Tupper the Library Director since 1981.

Assisted by Kathy Johnson who does all the inputting of material data into the computer and Joyce Roe, the library is open 30 hours per week.

The service population for the Muir Library is over 2,800 residents and Tupper and her associates circulate over 23,000 materials annually to their patrons.

Winnebago’s is not the stereotypical environment one envisions a library to be. It is bright and cheerful, partly because of its large windows, but it also is filled with colorful stuffed animals, seasonal window clings and other decor. It also is not the quiet place libraries once were.

The Muir Library is hopping with activities, namely the seasonal ‘Storytimes,’ ‘Summer Reading Program’ and the ‘Friday Adult Night ‘ scheduled January through April from 7-9 p.m.

“I got the idea for the Friday Night activity from the LeSueur Library system about five years ago,” says Tupper.

“During the evening, we have jigsaw puzzles set up, game tables filled with domino and card players and men playing cribbage. Some like to work on the computer and others just enjoy reading quietly,” says Tupper of the 15-19 regulars who show up with treats and no kids.

It is a pleasure for Tupper to greet library patrons and to see the great turnout for the ‘Storytime’ and ‘Adult Night Only’ activities.

“Towns need an activity on their Main Streets,” says Tupper. “I have had people say they have seen a lot of cars by the library so it has sparked their curiosity and they have stopped in.”

The Muir Library also has a very active group of supporters called the ‘Friends of the Library.’

These ‘friends’ are particularly active during National Library Week in April explains Tupper. At this time, they help with the annual new book sale.

Another group of strong supporters Tupper values are the parents who help in the evenings to make the seasonal ‘Storytimes’ so successful.

“Without the parent’s cooperation, we couldn’t offer crafts to coordinate with the stories and help with treats,” says Tupper.

The latest chapter has found the Muir Library as a site for individuals to job search on the two computers they have connected to the internet.

Another trend she has seen, with the depressed economy, has been the increase of DVDs being checked out.

Although she has seen changes in library service, such as being on-line and checking out videos and CDs, Tupper still orders a lot of adult fiction.

One of the most notable changes Tupper reports is the increase in large print books.

“In the 1980’s we had only two shelves for large print materials, now we have 26,” explains Tupper.

“Mystery fiction is really popular here,” says Tupper. “We also get a lot of romance paperbacks donated to us,” she explains. Tupper also reports there are more women than men readers in the area and has noted an increase in library patronage because of the economy, a pattern she recognizes because it happened in the 1980s also.

The Muir Library also provides a homebound service to those residing at Parker Oaks.

A very special time recognized by the library staff is when a child is about to enter kindergarten.

“We sponsor a ‘Spring Storytime’ and present each child about to enter school with their very own library card,” explains Tupper.

Gone are the days when people used to walk into a silent, gloomy, wood-paneled library, quickly check out a book then leave. Now they browse the shelves or sit down for awhile to relax and to read.

Tupper and her contemporaries are making libraries a comfortable, colorful spot drawing all ages. They share the joys of reading with children, furnish computers with internet access to the public and provide a relaxing environment for their patrons to read magazines and area newspapers.

Nine years into the 21st century, the Winnebago library is starting another new chapter in its story.

Stop by at 36 Main Street and ‘check out’ the many materials available at the Muir Library.