History

The rich his­to­ry of libraries in DeKalb Coun­ty had its gen­e­sis in Litho­nia in 1907 when Miss Lula Almand gath­ered books in her home and invit­ed local cit­i­zens to freely read and bor­row. Lat­er the local Woman’s Club, where Miss Lula was a char­ter mem­ber, found­ed the Litho­nia Pub­lic Library which today serves as a branch of the DeKalb Coun­ty Pub­lic Library (DCPL).

In 1925 the Decatur Library, which was the fore­run­ner of the DeKalb Coun­ty Pub­lic Library, was found­ed when a group of cit­i­zens led by Mrs. William Say­wood and Mrs. William Alden met to form a Pub­lic Library Asso­ci­a­tion. The first Board of Direc­tors was, besides Mrs. Say­wood and Mrs. Alden, Charles D. McK­in­ney, Mrs. John DeSaus­sure, William Jones, G. W. Glausi­er, and J. A. Hall. Part-time Decatur librar­i­ans, who served until 1930 when Mrs. A.B. Maud” Bur­rus was named the first full-time librar­i­an, were Mrs. W.Z. Paulie, Miss Anna Har­well, and Miss Grace Kehrer.

Com­ment­ing on the work of Mrs. Bur­rus and ear­ly library lead­ers, Mur­phey Can­dler, promi­nent local lawyer and edi­tor of The DeKalb New Era, wrote, …”Besides the work of Mrs. Bur­rus who is lit­er­al­ly devot­ing her life to the cul­tur­al advance­ment of our coun­ty, and who through her efforts has placed the Decatur Library Asso­ci­a­tion high in the ranks of libraries through­out the state, the work of Mrs. Alden, Mrs. Say­ward, and Dr. D.P. McGeachy has been outstanding.”

The DeKalb Coun­ty Pub­lic Library has a his­to­ry of strong, capa­ble direc­tors, begin­ning with its first bona fide librar­i­an in 1930, Mrs. Bur­rus, who served for 31 years. She was suc­ceed­ed by her assis­tant direc­tor Louise Trot­ti in 1961, and in 1982 Bar­bara Loar, who had served as assis­tant to Miss Trot­ti, was named to suc­ceed her. When Mrs. Loar retired in 1991, assis­tant direc­tor Don­na Manci­ni was appoint­ed to suc­ceed her. She resigned in 1995 to accept anoth­er posi­tion, and Dar­ro Wil­ley was named as library director.

The Decatur Library began oper­at­ing a coun­ty-wide divi­sion” in the 1930s, and sup­port­ed 25 book depos­i­to­ries in pri­vate homes around DeKalb Coun­ty. In 1938 the Litho­nia Pub­lic Library was added as a branch and a major mile­stone in 1940 was the oper­a­tion of DCPL’s first book­mo­bile, fund­ed by the Roo­sevelt administration’s Work Progress Admin­is­tra­tion (WPA). The idea for a book­mo­bile was born when Maud Bur­rus began tak­ing books in the back of her car to read­ers in the small towns and farms through­out the coun­ty. The first super­vi­sor of book­mo­bile ser­vices was Mrs. Bur­rus’ lat­er suc­ces­sor, Louise Trot­ti. In 1952 a new Library on Wheels” was pur­chased, and the old­er 1940 vin­tage vehi­cle was recon­di­tioned to serve African-Amer­i­cans in rur­al DeKalb County.

The Library’s orig­i­nal home was in the Decatur Bank & Trust Com­pa­ny build­ing, and it was lat­er moved to City Hall where it remained until a new library build­ing, fol­low­ing sep­a­rate Decatur and DeKalb bond issues, was built at a cost of $180,000 on Sycamore Street in 1950. The site of the new library was bequeathed to the city by Mrs. Annie Scott Coop­er as a memo­r­i­al to her father, George Wash­ing­ton Scott, founder of Agnes Scott Col­lege and to her hus­band, Thomas L. Coop­er, who had served on the Board of Direc­tors of the Library. The Library was renamed the Decatur-DeKalb Library. The build­ing quick­ly became too small and an addi­tion was built in 1954 to house an audi­to­ri­um and the Fine Arts and Cat­a­loging depart­ments. In 1962 the build­ing was renamed the Maud M. Bur­rus Library fol­low­ing Ms. Bur­rus’ retirement.

From 1938 to 1962 in then seg­re­gat­ed DeKalb Coun­ty, library ser­vice to African-Amer­i­cans was pro­vid­ed through the Carv­er Branch Library oper­at­ed in the Her­ring Street School as a coop­er­a­tive effort with the Decatur Board of Edu­ca­tion. This seg­re­gat­ed library ser­vice qui­et­ly came to an end in DeKalb Coun­ty in 1962, when Eliz­a­beth Wil­son and her daugh­ter reg­is­tered for and received library cards at the Decatur Library. Mrs. Wil­son lat­er became the first African-Amer­i­can to be elect­ed May­or of Decatur and sec­ond woman, the first being Ann Crichton.

In 1951, the Decatur-DeKalb Library became a region­al library with the affil­i­a­tion of Rock­dale Coun­ty, and New­ton Coun­ty joined the sys­tem in 1953. In 1962, it was renamed the DeKalb Library Sys­tem. Lat­er in 1989, DeKalb Coun­ty with­drew from the region­al library effec­tive­ly dis­solv­ing it. By this time the pop­u­la­tions of both Rock­dale and New­ton coun­ties had grown to the point where they could oper­ate as sep­a­rate coun­ty libraries. The DeKalb Library Sys­tem then became the DeKalb Coun­ty Pub­lic Library, as it is known today.

The library sys­tem received con­sid­er­able noto­ri­ety in 1983, when it became the first library in Geor­gia, and pos­si­bly the nation, to adapt the nation­al blue-and-white library sym­bol into a series of direc­tion­al signs on state and nation­al road­ways in DeKalb Coun­ty direct­ing dri­vers to near­by library branches.

From its first city and coun­ty bond issues in the late for­ties which built the orig­i­nal 1950 build­ing, funds from bond elec­tions have been vital to the Library’s growth. None was more impor­tant than the 1986 bond issue, which fund­ed expan­sions or replace­ments of four (4) exist­ing coun­ty library facil­i­ties, includ­ing the Decatur Library, as well as eleven (11) new library branch­es. Com­ment­ing on its impor­tance, Bar­bara Loar, Library Direc­tor at the time, said, We were almost over­whelmed by the thought of an expan­sion that would near­ly dou­ble the size of the library sys­tem and more than dou­ble the num­ber of books we had.”

When the Library was reopened in 1992 after being in tem­po­rary quar­ters on the Decatur Square, it was renamed the Decatur Library as a City of Decatur require­ment for its site dona­tion; and the fourth floor of the addi­tion was named the Maud M. Bur­rus Admin­is­tra­tive office. How­ev­er, many long time res­i­dents still affec­tion­ate­ly refer to the build­ing as the Maud Bur­rus Library. The orig­i­nal 1950 build­ing remains incor­po­rat­ed in the present Decatur Library.

Among those instru­men­tal in pass­ing this water­shed bond issue were DCPL Library Trustee Thurbert Bak­er, now Georgia’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al, and Library Trustee Jen­ny McCur­dy, who were co-chairs of the effort. Library Trustees Jane Nor­cross and William C. Brown also played vital roles in the bond issue. Wor­thy of spe­cial note, both Ms. McCur­dy and Ms. Nor­cross were award­ed the Amer­i­can Library Association’s high­est cita­tion for library trustees for their work both in DeKalb Coun­ty and nation­al­ly on behalf of pub­lic libraries.

The library sys­tem is now under­go­ing a sim­i­lar expan­sion in the wake of a 2005 Coun­ty bond elec­tion which autho­rized $54,540,000 for the con­struc­tion of five replace­ment library facil­i­ties, four expand­ed and ren­o­vat­ed libraries, and three new libraries, bring­ing the num­ber of DCPL facil­i­ties to 25. Library Board Chair Herb Sprague led the 2005 cam­paign for the library sys­tem, which result­ed in the library bond pro­pos­al receiv­ing the high­est vote count of three bond pro­pos­als on the bal­lot, the oth­ers being Parks and Transportation.

The DeKalb Coun­ty Pub­lic Library has long been a state and nation­al leader in the devel­op­ment of inno­v­a­tive pro­grams, and that tra­di­tion con­tin­ues today. One of the Library’s most vis­i­ble and pop­u­lar pro­grams is its Geor­gia Cen­ter for the Book (GCB) oper­a­tion which sup­ports Georgia’s rich lit­er­ary her­itage. The Cen­ter, as the state affil­i­ate of the Library of Con­gress, has been host­ed and fund­ed by DCPL since late 1997. Under this ban­ner the library sys­tem has sup­port­ed a num­ber of statewide lit­er­ary pro­grams, includ­ing the Geor­gia Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val (held in a dif­fer­ent Geor­gia com­mu­ni­ty each year), the All Geor­gia Reads pro­gram (which selects one book every two years for all Geor­gians to read and dis­cuss), and the spon­sor­ship of every major lit­er­ary award giv­en in the state. The Cen­ter for the Book pro­gram has made DCPL the largest lit­er­ary pro­gram pre­sen­ter in the south­east­ern Unit­ed States, with over 100 author pro­grams cur­rent­ly being pre­sent­ed annu­al­ly. Through its GCB oper­a­tion, the library sys­tem was also a co-founder of the Decatur Book Fes­ti­val which has record­ed annu­al atten­dance of over 50,000 people.

For those res­i­dents who have a need for lit­er­a­cy skills, DCPL’s unique Project REAP (Read­ing Empow­ers All Peo­ple) has been invalu­able. This inno­v­a­tive pro­gram, uti­liz­ing Library resources and per­son­nel, has taught hun­dreds of immi­grant fam­i­lies, adults, and chil­dren basic Eng­lish skills since 1999. Its impact has affect­ed the lives of thou­sands, some­times in unex­pect­ed ways. It start­ed with a pri­vate dona­tion to the DeKalb Library Foun­da­tion to help pro­mote immi­grant and refugee fam­i­ly lit­er­a­cy. Since its incep­tion, it has grown, expand­ed, and changed, yet nev­er lost its focus on help­ing peo­ple devel­op skills to improve their lives. DCPL offers class­es out­side the Library and hosts class vis­its at local libraries where par­ents and their chil­dren can obtain library cards and browse col­lec­tions, includ­ing mate­ri­als in their first lan­guage as well as attend spe­cial programs.

In addi­tion to Project REAP, the Library has part­nered with lit­er­a­cy providers for Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage (ESOL) class­es in coun­ty libraries and has devel­oped spe­cial lit­er­a­cy col­lec­tions in many branch­es to sup­port oth­er lit­er­a­cy provider pro­grams. DCPL cur­rent­ly part­ners with Lit­er­a­cy Vol­un­teers of Amer­i­ca, Lit­er­a­cy Action, the Latin Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion, and DeKalb Tech­ni­cal Col­lege in ongo­ing lit­er­a­cy efforts. The Library’s lit­er­a­cy pro­gram has received sig­nif­i­cant atten­tion in Atlanta, and DCPL was pre­sent­ed with the Susan Con­stan­tine Lit­er­a­cy Award from Project READ.

DeKalb’s diver­si­ty, stem­ming from the sec­ond largest increase in immi­grant pop­u­la­tion of any met­ro­pol­i­tan area in the nation over a 10-year peri­od (accord­ing to the Cen­ter for Immi­grant Stud­ies), has added to the rich­ness of the county’s cul­ture. Pro­vid­ing library ser­vices for that kind of diver­si­ty has proved a for­mi­da­ble, con­tin­u­ing challenge.

Because DCPL’s mul­ti­cul­tur­al pop­u­la­tion includes a major­i­ty of African-Amer­i­can res­i­dents, the library sys­tem fea­tures many pro­grams direct­ed toward that clien­tele. Among the Library’s most wide­ly praised and antic­i­pat­ed pro­grams is its annu­al Kwan­zaa Aware­ness Fes­ti­val. Such pro­grams were rel­a­tive­ly rare in the 1980s, when long­time library man­ag­er Doris Wells intro­duced it at DCPL. Today, this ever-grow­ing series of pro­grams, author vis­its, and activ­i­ties com­mem­o­rates a hol­i­day cen­tral to the lives and cul­ture of many Library patrons.

Of spe­cial note is DCPL’s ground­break­ing Build­ing Blocks” pro­gram, an infor­mal recre­ation­al and edu­ca­tion­al project that began in 1992 at the Redan-Trot­ti Library. Ini­tial­ly the pro­gram focused on low-lit­er­ate, at-risk young adults 15 through 18 years old, as well as par­ents of chil­dren from birth through 36 months of age. In 1994, Build­ing Blocks” was rec­og­nized by the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion in its list­ing of Excel­lence in Library Ser­vices to Young Adults.” This pop­u­lar pro­gram con­tin­ues today, intro­duc­ing all par­ents and their chil­dren to activ­i­ties and mate­ri­als which enhance the devel­op­ment of infant lan­guages and motor skills.

DCPL cur­rent­ly oper­ates 22 library facil­i­ties spread across the County’s 268 square miles, includ­ing the Decatur Library, a Library Pro­cess­ing Cen­ter and 20 branch­es. As a result of a 2005 bond issue, this will increase to 25 facil­i­ties by 2010. The library col­lec­tion is approach­ing 1,000,000 mate­r­i­al items, and over 200,000 coun­ty res­i­dents have active library cards. Annu­al cir­cu­la­tion in 2007 was 3.5 mil­lion with library vis­its reach­ing a record 3.3 mil­lion peo­ple. Near­ly twice as many peo­ple used DPCL facil­i­ties in 2007 as attend­ed Atlanta Fal­cons, Thrash­ers, and Hawks home games com­bined in the same year. Since 2000, the cir­cu­la­tion of library mate­ri­als has risen 48%, bely­ing pre­dic­tions that pub­lic libraries are an endan­gered species.

A ran­dom pub­lic tele­phone sur­vey con­duct­ed by out­side con­sul­tants in 2000 revealed that DeKalb Coun­ty cit­i­zens believed that among coun­ty agen­cies, the library pro­vid­ed the best val­ue. Quar­ter­ly sur­veys since then repeat­ed­ly show 98% sat­is­fac­tion lev­els among reg­u­lar library users. Accom­pa­ny­ing DCPL’s spring 2005 nom­i­na­tion for the Geor­gia Governor’s Award in the Human­i­ties (which it sub­se­quent­ly received), many library patrons eager­ly took up pen to pro­claim their feel­ings about the orga­ni­za­tion: The DeKalb Coun­ty Pub­lic Library has demon­strat­ed vision and com­mit­ment,” wrote State Rep. Stephanie S. Ben­field, D‑Decatur.