Since the 1800s, public libraries in our county have helped foster a love of reading and knowledge in both children and adults. As a historian and former educator, I consider them valuable and necessary in our community. Following is a look at the history of public libraries in St. Charles County.
Public libraries here date back to the mid-1800s. Father Peter Verhaegen, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo, established a library there with 1,716 books by 1885. German residents of Augusta established the Augusta Harmonie Verein (known today as also known as the American Legion Post 262 and Grand Army of the Republic Hall) and opened a library in 1856 that contained almost 3,500 volumes. Later, Cook’s News Stand established a circulating library in 1906. To become a member, a patron purchased a book valued at no less than 25 cents – for a small fee of five to 10 cents, they could secure another book when returning the book purchased.1
A more traditional public library in the City of St. Charles was established by Kathryn Linnemann, a St. Charles resident and piano instructor, in the early 1900s. Kathryn started a library in her home to help others have access to books. In 1914, after outgrowing the space, Kathryn went to the St. Charles Board of Education and asked them for help. The board granted her permission to use a room in the district’s Jefferson School and she became the first librarian. While the Board of Education provided some of the books, Kathryn acquired the rest from friends. Unfortunately, the library was destroyed when the school was destroyed by fire in 1918. The library temporarily operated out of a shed behind the school with 200 volumes. A library board was formed two years later in 1920, and St. Charles voters approved a library tax in 1928. By 1931, the public library moved into a former residence at 572 Jefferson with 4,200 volumes.2 This article in the Suburban Journals provides more information and insights about Kathryn and her work.
While the St. Charles library was a welcome addition in the community, not everyone was able to enjoy it. Chase Robinson, an African American janitor at the public library in St. Charles, applied for a library card in 1932. After other African American citizens also applied, the Library Board received letters from the pastor of the St. John A.M.E. Church, and from the Colored Welfare League. While the matter was discussed, the board took no action. The issue arose again in 1942, when the Library Board received a letter from Sylvester Dryden, secretary of the Negro Advancement Association, requesting borrowing privileges for African Americans. The board referred the matter to the city attorney, and a committee of the board began meeting with the association. After meeting with a committee from the Negro Advancement Association in August 1945, the St. Charles Library Board resolved, “The Negro population of St. Charles, Mo. will be granted privileges of the St. Charles Public Library beginning Sept. 16, 1946.” A year after the end of World War II, African Americans were finally able to access the library, and it was an important first victory in the struggle for integration in St. Charles County.3
By the 1960s, residents wanted expansion of library services in other parts of St. Charles County. Along with the City of St. Charles’ Library, a small library in Wentzville supported by a 1/2-cent tax approved by voters in 1943 was the only other option in the community.4 In response to this demand, and at the request of a committee of St. Charles County residents, the librarian for the Missouri State Library initiated a bookmobile project and a small walk-in facility on the outskirts of St. Charles in 1963. Just a year later, in April 1964, County voters approved a 2-cent tax levy for a County Library District. A branch library opened in O’Fallon the following August, and patrons of the Wentzville Library voted to merge with the County Library District in November 1965.
After this merger, local libraries became a battleground like other cultural institutions in the United States for censorship attempts. In 1966, the County Library District received a petition asking for the removal of certain “obscene” books from the shelves. Only 30 of the 100 who signed the petition had any history of borrowing from the library. Mrs. Marcella Hall requested the library have more material on the “international communist conspiracy.” Republican Committee Woman Judy Gittemeier initially asked that Ramparts magazine be removed from the shelves, but later amended her request, asking the library to label as subversive any material so labeled by the state or federal government. In 1968, a Post-Dispatch article quoted Rev. Norman Bahlow, “Our primary aim was not to have the magazine removed from the shelves, but to have it labeled for what it is.” The board rejected all requests to remove or label any books. An organization called the Society to Oppose Pornography (STOP) picketed in 1969 when the St. Charles County Library showed a series of films concerning sexual ethics. One of the picket signs read, “My parents are the only ones who have the right to inform me about sex.” The County Court appointed Marcella Hall, one of the 100 who signed the petition in 1966, to the County Library Board in 1970. A year later, the County Court also appointed Rev. Krull and Rev. Norman Bahlow to the board. Responding to public concern about the libraries, the County Court put a reduction in the library levy before the voters in April 1971. While the attempt to reduce the levy to one cent failed, the following July the new majority on the board ousted librarian Ann Webb. Around the same time, the St. Charles Library Board adopted the “Freedom to Read Statement” of the American Library Association. Library Director Merribeth Cook remembered:
A local lawyer objected vehemently over the explicit sex portrayed in the book (Couples, by John Updike), and asked me to have it removed. I said I would take the matter up at the next board meeting, but would continue to circulate all the copies of the book, which was then on the New York Times best-seller list, and we had quite a few reserve requests for it. The lawyer took one of the library’s copies down to the mayor’s office, with the juicier sections marked with paper clips. The mayor demanded that the board remove the book from circulation. Fortunately the board, without a dissenting vote, moved not to remove the book from circulation on the open shelves.5
In the midst of handling these censorship issues, the city and county library districts entered into a reciprocal agreement on Oct. 1, 1967, that allowed patrons to use the resources of the other since both districts charged the same tax rate. The two districts merged into the St. Charles City-County Library District in 1973. Under the state statute allowing the merger, the St. Charles City Council appointed four members and the County Court appointed five to the governing board. The district hired Carl Sandstedt as its first director in 1976.6
Today, the St. Charles City-County Library District has expanded to 12 branches and is governed by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Mayor of St. Charles and myself. Nearly 2 million visitors check out over 5.5 million items per year. The library collection includes not only books and magazines but music, movies, audio books, video games, electronic books, online research and instructional resources, and even telescopes and kitchen equipment to borrow. The following timeline of the library’s history and expansion is courtesy of the library district’s website and demonstrates how far the district has come in just over 45 years. Along with checking out the library’s website and resources, I encourage you to visit each branch’s webpage to learn more about their histories, collections and services:
- Aug. 1, 1973: St Charles City-County Library District formed by merger of Kathryn M. Linnemann Library (City of St. Charles) and St. Charles County Library
- May 1, 1975: First branch of the district, the North County/Portage des Sioux Branch, opens
- July 1, 1976: South County/Augusta Branch opens
- April 1, 1980: Spencer Road Branch opens with Administrative Offices in St. Peters
- Oct. 25, 1982: Kathryn Linnemann Branch in St. Charles opens
- Dec. 3, 1984: Corporate Parkway Branch in Wentzville opens
- April 5, 1988: 5-cent tax increase approved by voters; new tax rate is 20 cents
- May 1988: Spencer Road Branch expands, Administrative Offices move to 425 Spencer Road
- March 12, 1990: Kisker Road Branch in St. Charles opens
- May 30, 1991: Spencer Road Branch expands
- May 26, 1992: Kathryn Linnemann Branch expands
- April 5, 1994: 6-cent tax increase approved by voters; new tax rate is 26 cents
- June 29, 1995: Corporate Parkway Branch expands
- July 19, 1995: Middendorf-Kredell Branch in O’Fallon opens
- October 26, 1995: Deer Run Branch in O’Fallon opens
- July 31, 1997: Boone’s Trail Branch in Wentzville opens
- January 20, 1998: McClay Branch in St. Charles opens
- March 7, 1999: Spencer Road Branch renovated
- July 12, 1999: Kisker Road Branch expands
- May 28, 2002: Boone’s Trail Branch moves to new location (Hwy Z)
- July 22, 2002: Administrative Offices move to Boone Hills location
- Jan. 8, 2003: McClay Branch expands
- Sept. 8, 2003: Library Express at WingHaven in O’Fallon opens
- Nov. 15, 2003: Nonprofit Development Center lease with Library District as manager, Community Council as lead agency and tenant relations
- July 24, 2006: Library Express at Discovery Village in Wentzville opens
- Oct. 30, 2006: Middendorf-Kredell expands/remodeled
- Nov. 17, 2008: Kathryn Linnemann Branch expands/remodeled
- March 15, 2010: South County/Augusta Branch relocates to Jackson Street
- March 17, 2010: Library Express at WingHaven expands/remodeled
- March 21, 2012: New Spencer Road Branch opens
1. Portrait and Biographical Record, 221; Jo Ann Brown, St. Charles Borromeo, 77, 88, 90; 1885 history, 72.
2. The St. Charles, Missouri Citizen Improvement Association, 1905-1907, 61; Kristina Korth, "Kathryn Linnemann," St. Charles Heritage, Vol.16, No. 3, July 1998, 111-115. The Reveille had reported two libraries in St. Charles as early as 1857. Reveille, March 27, 1857.
3. Cosmos-Monitor, Jan. 7, 1931; Banner-News, Oct. 8, 1953; Dorothy Steele, “The History of Public Libraries in St. Charles,” Research paper, Department of Library Science, University of Missouri, Columbia, 7-9.
4. Cosmos-Monitor, Feb. 17, 1943; Steele, “The History of Public Libraries in St. Charles,” 17.
5. Steele, “The History of Public Libraries in St. Charles,” 7-9.
6. Steele, “The History of Public Libraries in St. Charles,”17-22; Banner-News, Sept. 29, 1967; St. Charles County Post-Dispatch, Aug. 7, 1980 sc-1. Chapter 182 allowed for creation of County Library District or the consolidation of a City/County Library District. Branches of the City/County District included the Kathryn Linnemann Library in St. Charles, Spencer Road Library in St. Peters, O’Fallon Plaza Library in O’Fallon and I-70 Corporate Plaza Library in Wentzville.