Our journey began in a single room in the late 1800s. Then, in 1925, the Library doors opened on the second floor of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows building on the square of Elizabethtown with Betty Ricker, Head Librarian. The little Library quickly outgrew its one room allocation and expanded to another as the collection and community demand continued to increase.
It was about 25 years after the doors to the little Library opened when Ira R. Herr began talking with fellow Rotary members to consider providing a building for the Library. Soon a Library committee was formed and the community championed the idea of the project. With an outpouring of support and volunteer service, the former church building at the corner of Hanover & Oak Streets was converted into the new public Library for Elizabethtown. In April 1961 more than 8,000 books were moved to their new home. In May the Library was dedicated into service – the doors were unlocked to the public that same day.
The community continued to rally behind the Library. Local municipalities began investing in Library services and residents supported the Library with their financial contributions and by volunteering their time. Some of these volunteers came together and founded the Friends of Elizabethtown Public Library.
The Library continued to grow. It became an incorporated entity and received tax-exempt status shortly thereafter. The board decided to join with other independent public Libraries in Lancaster County and become part of the Library System of Lancaster County. The Library was diligently building a strong foundation as community demand for Library services continued to grow and the collection of materials continued to grow as well.
Again, the Library had out performed the current location. Thousands of books had been added to the collection and new formats like VHS (video home system) and cassette (audio) tapes were among the materials loaned by the Library. Programs began to take place more consistently and, often, overflowed the available spaces. And so, the search was on for a new space to accommodate the ever-growing demand.
A new location was selected – not even a full block from the original location. In 1999 the Library began to rise at 10 South Market Street. The Library board and building committee worked diligently to build a modern building that would handle the materials and services for a new generation of readers. Little did they know – technology would change our lives, our work and our culture in every imaginable way. They could not have imagined that, one day, there would be more cell phones than humans on the planet. They would not have guessed that, during a pandemic, interactive videos transferred over the world-wide-web would keep families connected and businesses moving forward. They would not have known that Libby would not check out physical books – instead she would deliver downloadable books and audiobooks at the click of a button.
They could not have guessed that there would be no room for new books on the shelves. They didn’t know hundreds of people would apply for their passports each year. Books on CD, American Girl Dolls, and wireless internet would have seemed outrageous. They couldn’t imagine that up to a thousand people would complete mandatory fingerprinting background checks each month. And, they wouldn’t have thought that little spaces throughout the building would be converted into a coffee shop, book store, and more.
Expanded formats and ongoing demand for Library services continue to challenge the Library space. Shelving has been pieced together from many different sources to accommodate all the Library has to offer. Spaces have been carved out to make closets and offices. Gathering spaces are located throughout the building amid the giant stacks. Public computers remain available for those who need them and WiFi is accessible day and night, all week long.
So very much has changed throughout the History of Elizabethtown Public Library. Yet, so much remains the same.
The Library continues to partner with other independent public Libraries in Lancaster County as a member of the Library System of Lancaster County. This partnership helps our money go farther by sharing the online catalog and card holder database and provides many other cost benefits. It also helps us provide a greater variety of materials as card holders may have materials delivered to Elizabethtown from any public Library in Lancaster County or borrow from our shared collection of eBooks and eAudioBooks.
The Friends of Elizabethtown Public Library crew has also stood the test of time. This band of volunteers now runs the bookstore inside the Library and hosts book sales throughout the year to support Library operations. Members of the Friends are also responsible for the beautification efforts that have taken place on the Library property.
Our close ties to the Rotary Club of Elizabethtown remain strong as we host a Taste of Western Lancaster County each year to raise funds for Library operations and the service projects of the Rotary Club.
Elizabethtown Public Library is a living part of Elizabethtown History. We are dedicated to the fundamental Library services that were established long before 1925. And, we remain committed to advancing Library services as our community grows and changes so that everyone in the Greater Elizabethtown Area is fully literate and has the resources they need to make their dreams come true.