April 3-9 is National Library Week for 2022, and the George Coon Public Library in Princeton has celebrated by hosting events such as an art day, a nature day and even a stuffed animal sleepover.
The observance of National Library Day first started back in 1958, and is sponsored each year by the American Library Association. It is open to all types of libraries: school, public, academic and special.
According to the ALA website, research in the mid-1950s showed that Americans were spending less money on books. Concerned, the ALA partnered with the American Book Publishers to form a nonprofit citizens organization called the National Book Committee in 1954. They wanted to encourage people to read more during their leisure time, in addition to improving overall health and family life. The theme of the first National Library Week was “Wake Up and Read!”
The story of the George Coon Public Library, as told on its website, began 100-plus years ago. In 1913, the Princeton Collegiate Institute was changed to Princeton High School, and a teacher named Mrs. J.A.H. Miller helped secure books and furniture for the library. While there was not enough funding for an actual library, the collection continued to grow over the next five years and moved to a structure supervised by two literary clubs: the Book Lovers and the Gradatim Club.
It seemed that the library would have to close, but then these two groups combined into the Literary League and negotiated to use a house located just off Main Street owned by George Coon. There was heavy resistance to funding efforts, including a public demonstration on the courthouse square. The library did not receive financial aid from the city, but it did receive free fuel, water and electricity from the mayor of Princeton.
Even when the city did agree to assist with funding, it was not enough to allow full operation. As such, Miller and Pearl Hawthorne undertook the care of the library themselves by being librarians, janitors and general caretakers. In 1927, the house could no longer support the growing collection, so the Library League began fundraising efforts. At the time, the members of the league were Gara Seely Shattuck, Anna Garrett Ratlift, Evelyn Polk Eldred, Grace McGoodwin Brown and Sallie Powell Catlett.
The group received a bequest of $25,000 from Coon’s estate in March 1928, and a month later, the present location was dedicated. The Library League continued to run the library, along with the Woman’s Club of Princeton, for the next 25 years. Saul Pogratsky was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1954, where he would serve as chairman for 30 years. During his tenure, the library received financial support from the city.
The library website also indicates that it began with a circulation of 203 books per month, and it’s now at approximately 3,000-plus books monthly. When asked to comment on how the library is still an integral part of the local community, librarian Nichelle Faughn said the following:
“The library has been and will continue to be a focal point for every community. We saw even more so during the pandemic how vital our libraries and library resources are. People needed information and services and we were able to help them,” librarian Nicole Faughn said.
“The world is changing every day and we want the library to progress as well and remain relevant. That is why we try to offer dependable internet access and computers, programs and activities for all ages, and community partnerships to help our patrons get the information and services they need.”
The library opens at 9 a.m. Monday through Sunday, closing at 5 p.m. on each day except for Tuesdays, when it closes at 7 p.m., and Saturdays, when it closes at noon. It offers library cards that allow patrons to check out books, magazines, CDs and DVDs. There is also free public Wi-Fi and internet accessible computer usage along with printing, copying and faxing services.
Additionally, the library offers a separate genealogy research center. In 2005, the genealogy research department had outgrown its home, so it was moved to an adjacent building also owned by the library. Glenn Martin donated the funds necessary to renovate the building, and the Glenn Martin Genealogy Research Center was dedicated to him in thanks.
It offers family research books, obituaries, microfilm, census records, copies of local newspapers and more valuable genealogical materials. A comprehensive list of the material it offers is available on its website. The center is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and it’s available for public use.