Malvern-HSC Library celebrates 85 years

Originally Published March 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 20, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Haley Cazort, left, and Kayla Graham, both 9, look for books at the Malvern/Hot Spring County Library.

There will be a birthday party in April to celebrate the Malvern/Hot Spring County Library and its 85 years of service to the community.

“When I was hired 5 1/2 years ago, I was told they wanted the library to be a community hub,” said Ashley Parker-Graves, director of the library on Third Street in downtown Malvern. “We are always working to expand our programs, inviting our public to come in to the library.”

The celebration, to be held April 13 at the Malvern Country Club, commemorates the opening of the first library building in Malvern in 1928.

However, Parker-Graves, who spoke on the history of the library to the Hot Spring County Historical Society on March 4, said the story of the library goes back decades before the 1928 library was built.

At the birthday party for the library next month, those who attend will receive a copy of a new history of the library, the library director said. At the end of the event, copies of the new book, published by Crystal Clear Advertising of Hot Springs, will be available for about $10 each.

“In 1899, a women’s club in Malvern started a book collection available for a private lending club,” Parker-Graves said. To join the lending group, you had to donate a book.

According to the librarian, the history of the group and what followed for decades is vague at best. She said her information comes from what is said to be a firsthand account of someone involved with the club and the lending library, but the information is undated and unsigned.

Over the years, the lending group grew. Within a few years, Parker-Graves said, the women’s club purchased a private collection of books from a man in Danville. After that, the group moved the lending library into a downtown storefront.

It was probably early in the 1920s that the club started to raise funds for a real library.

“This group of women decided to have a library for everyone, and they raised the money to get it started,” Parker-Graves said. “The brick building opened on March 8, 1928.”

The library, still run by the club, ran into hard times during the Great Depression. By sometime in 1936 or 1937, the library was turned over to a private commission.

“The library was still privately funded, but it was open to everyone,” Parker-Graves said. “To become a member of the governing board, you had to make a donation.”

The women’s club made the largest donation of $50, but according to the library history, most pledges were under $5, and many were less, with some as low as 10 cents.

“Of course, then a dollar was worth much more, but it was hard times, and money was scarce,” Parker-Graves said.

In 1939, finances were stabilized for the library when the city of Malvern passed a tax to help support the public library, although it was still governed by the private commission. Yet by 1965, the library was turned over to Hot Spring County.

Almost 100 years after the women’s club started lending out books, the county library burned down.

“It is my understanding that lightning hit a tree next to the library, and [the fire] started in the upper part of the building,” Parker-Graves said. “All the literature was gone, and about all that was saved was the genealogical collection, which has turned out to be one of the most valuable and used departments in the library.”

Those records and the Arkansas history section of the collection remain, but many of the older books still have smoke and water stains from the fire and the efforts to extinguish it.

After the fire, a proposal for a tax to rebuild the library was defeated by the county’s voters. However, Malvern voters passed a short-term tax to fund a bond issue to rebuild the library.

“That is why it is the Malvern/Hot Spring County Library, even though the library belongs to the county,” Parker-Graves explained.

The library in Malvern is also part of the Mid-Arkansas Regional Library, and Parker-Graves is director of the four-country region.

“The regional library is an umbrella organization of the Cleveland, Dallas, Grant and Hot Spring County libraries,” she said. “Operating as a regional library allows us the opportunity to share access to technology and to interlibrary loans among member institutions. The regional library also supports a bookmobile that services the regional area and a Library by Mail Program.”

While the library has a staff of only 12 people — five full time and seven part time — the library can have an many as 75 programs in operation during the summer months.

The programs go far beyond lending books. The library in Malvern has music, movies and video games available for checkout by library-card holders.

“There are audio books, computer software for the patrons, along with fishing poles from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, crocheting and knitting needs. In some programs, we even provide the yarn for people to use to knit and crochet,” Parker-Graves said.

Programs offered by the library include book clubs, story hours for children and educational programs ranging in subject from SAT prep and needlecraft classes to baby-sitting certification and couponing.

County residents have access to computers and the Internet, along with tax forms and tax-prep materials. The meeting rooms of the library are the site of many meetings and programs for people of all ages.

“We are still working on making the library a community hub,” Parker-Graves said.

The library staff is looking for grants to create mobile classrooms to teach computer classes to seniors or have Skype conversations and other Web-based meetings.

“We also want to start a program for prenatal literacy for pregnant women,” Parker-Graves said. “It has been proven that reading to a child, even the smallest baby, makes a difference in the number of words they learn and their communications skills.”

She said the library is also developing programs to support local home-schooling.

For more information about the birthday party event or to buy tickets for $30 each, contact the Malvern/Hot Spring County Library at (501) 332-5441.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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