History of the Van Buren District Library

Historial Timeline of  Our Libraries

A Chronology Compiled by Larry B. Massie



1869    Norman E. Webster, the son of Norman E. and Jennie L. Chavileer Webster, is born in Decatur.

1878    The Lawrence Library begun by John B. Potter.

1884    Norman E. Webster graduates from Decatur Graded School.

1895    Norman E. Webster marries Rose Rezeau in Denver, Colorado.

1906    The Mattawan Library begins under the auspices of the Mattawan Sunshine Club.

1909    The Bangor Library is begun as a project of the Argonauts Women's Literary    Club.

1914    Mattawan Library building is constructed at 551 Pine Grove.

1923    The Covert Library opens in two rooms at the residence of John Connors.

1934    Decatur Township Library begins as WPA project.  Mrs. Martin Knoll is in charge. It is first located in Kaplan's Store. Van Buren County Library established under the WPA in Paw Paw.  It subsequently receives additional support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

1935    The Bangor Library is reestablished in the back of  N.F. Steinman''s Hardware Store.  Bloomingdale Library begins as WPA project. Original location at Emerson Spayde's Drugstore.

1936    Dedication of new Decatur Library as part of Decatur Village Hall.

1940    Covert Library moves to Packard Hall (constructed in 1871).

1941    After demise of WPA, the Van Buren County Board of Supervisors passes resolution that provides legal foundation for county library.

1942    Miss Dorothy Hansen hired as first professional librarian for Van Buren County Library (she resigned 1947).

1945    Norman E. Webster delivers autobiographical commencement address at Decatur High School graduation ceremonies.  Covert Library becomes branch of County Library.

1946    Bloomingdale Library relocates from Township Hall to building formerly occupied by Bloomingdale Leader and becomes branch of County Library.  Bangor Library becomes branch.  Gobles Library becomes branch.

1947    Lawrence Library moves to east side of Township Hall and becomes branch.

1951    Arba Moulton, editor of Decatur newspaper, receives news of Webster's intention to will $75,000 to $125,000 for library he suggested be named in honor of Henry Upton, his school principal.

1954    Mrs. Madelyn M. Bradford becomes head of Van Buren County Library.

1955    Norman Webster purchases property at corner of Phelps and St. Mary’s streets as a potential site for a library.

1956    Norman Webster dies in New York.

1957    Earl E. Copley, trustee, announces provisions in Webster's will for new library (estimated $500,000 it ultimately proves to be approximately $750.00).  Mattawan Library becomes branch library.

1960    Decatur Township Library and Van Buren County Library merge and move to newly constructed Webster Memorial Library.

1961    Sixteen millimeter films are made available for patrons.

1963    Madelyn Bradford named president of the Michigan Library Association.

1964    With a total of 76,713 books, the Webster Library including branches has the second largest collection of any public library in southwest Michigan.  Madelyn Bradford retires effective 31 December 1964.

1965    Curt Bohling hired as director.  Reciprocal agreement with Cass County libraries reached.

1966    First photocopy machine for public use purchased.  A total of 6,131 books are added to collection and the annual circulation increases by more than 5,000 to 113,595.  A large collection of 33 1/3 rpm records is made available to patrons.

1967    The recently remodeled Covert Branch reopens.  The remodeled Gobles Branch, which was badly damaged when the roof collapsed under snow, reopens.

1968    Webster has 81,000 volumes and an enhanced local history collection.

1969    Curt Bohling resigns effective 1 November 1969.  Miss Harriet Clemens serves as acting director.  Severe financial problems emerge because of federal cuts.

1971    Miss Eileen L. Oehler becomes director - she resigns less than six months later.  Clemens replaces her.  The local history room is established.

1973    The county library system receives its first increase in funding from municipalities since 1957 (up from $3,000 to $5,000).

1974    Harriet Clemens retires and Patricia (Jahn) Olsen becomes director.

1975    Webster Library joins the Library System of Southwestern Michigan, headquartered at the Benton Harbor Public Library.  Webster holds its first "sidewalk book sales" as part of "Decatur Week."  All items are 25 cents.

1976    Webster Library initiates art rental program.  Outreach Services begins to place materials at nursing homes, etc.

1978    Patricia Olsen resigns and David Tate is named new director.  Lawsuit with State of Michigan Library over whether Webster Library can remain as part of Woodlands Co-op or be forced to join Kalamazoo Library Coop.

1979    Out of court settlement results in victory for Webster.

1982    First children's bookmark contest "Best of Van Buren County."  Microcomputer Workshop for kids in June attracts state-wide attention.

1983    Memorial Gift Program launched under the theme "Who Touches a Book -  Touches a Memory."  New bookmobile, the fourth since mobile service was started in 1941, replaces 1969 model.  Program begun to lend Polaroid cameras to patrons.  Friends of Van Buren County Library officially formed - (there is evidence that an earlier "friends" group was in existence as early as 1964).  Mattawan Branch moves to former Antwerp Township Hall at 24171 Front Avenue.

1984    State Representative Mick Middaugh speaks at first annual meeting of Friends.  Bangor Branch moves to former McKane Funeral Home.

1987    Webster joins "computer age" with patron registration information program.  Advisory Committee to explain solutions for funding problems is established.  The highlight of the year's children's activities is the Summer Reading Program, "Celebrate Michigan - Read."  Newly renovated Gobles Branch opens.

1989   Webster becomes the first in the state to reorganize as a district library under the District Library Bill.

1990   The new Buy-A-Book Program proves a success with $2,500 donated by patrons during the first year.  A Library Endowment Fund is created separate from the general fund.

1991   After being twice narrowly defeated the previous year, voters approve a mileage request by a wide margin.  The library begins a program to fully automate the circulation system.  A reciprocal borrowing agreement is reached with the Kalamazoo Public Library.

1993   A video rental program is launched with 1,100 titles - 749 new titles are added throughout the year.  Library spends a record $90,000 on new book acquisitions.  Library applies for grant from Library of Michigan for access to the "Internet.

1994    Library agrees to purchase $175,000 Galaxy system to automate circulation, public access catalog and cataloging functions.  Library breaks ground on a $700,000 expansion and renovation project.  Library book count identifies 98,298 items in system.  Bookmobile service is eliminated.  David Tate appointed to Library of Michigan Board of Trustees reappointed in1999 and 2003).

1995    After three week shutdown, Webster reopens for gala open house celebration of  4,664 square-foot expansion and 35th anniversary of library.  Direct internet connection added with four dial-ups for patron use.

1996    Galaxy system becomes fully operative.  The Antwerp Branch moves to 32,000 square foot former Olsen Senior Center at the Antwerp Township Hall.

1998    Bangor Branch library completes $240,000 expansion and renovation.

1999    Library's annual budget tops $1 million ($1,221,663.19) thanks in part to Webster Trust allocations.  Library prepares for Y2K nightmare predictions - which fortunately did not happen.

2000    Library receives $115,000 grant from Gates Foundation for 30 computer work stations and high speed internet for Branches.  Outdoor memorial to the Websters unveiled at dedication of new parking lot.  Bess Britton Collection of material about Michigan one-room schoolhouses donated.

2001    David Tate is named Michigan Librarian of the of Year.  Patrons log 27,678 individual internet sessions for the year, up more than 250% from previous year.  Friends Book Sale sets record of $4,809 in sales.  Covert Branch completes $110,000 renovation and refurnishing project.  Library holds first annual poster contest for children.

2002    Library implements TLC Library Solution System, a web based $125,000 major automation upgrade.

2003    Completion of expansion and renovation of Antwerp Branch doubles space to 6,000 square-feet.

2004    Lawrence Branch opens new, national-award winning, 3,600 square-foot facility.

2005    Collection management service reveals total value of library's collection to be $7,813,085.93.

2008    Van Buren District Library launches mobile computer lab to instruct low-income learners, seniors and others who have not grown up with computers in their home.  Record circulation of 297,639 is up 11.6% from previous year.

2010    New 5,500 square-foot Covert Branch Library building is open.