A private Circulating/Lending Library existed in Parry Sound before the Parry Sound Public Library was formed. On October 2, 1885, the Circulating Library, originally run by Mr. J.A. Prentice, was transferred to Miss Fawns' dressmaking establishment on James Street .
Subscription to the library was $1.00 per year. Members could change their books between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., and on Saturdays until 8 p.m. An appeal in the North Star requested that all parties having books out return them as soon as possible.
On March 25, 1887, a public meeting was held for the purpose of establishing a Mechanics' Institute and Reading Room in Parry Sound.
On April 1, 1887, Mr. D. McEachern was appointed chairman and Mr. Walter L. Haight was named secretary and a resolution favouring the formation of the Parry Sound Mechanics' Institute was carried unanimously.
It was the duty of the Directors of every Mechanics' Institute, in order to be entitled to any portion of the appropriation made by the Legislative Assembly for Mechanics' Institutes:
1. To see that such Institute is incorporated according to the provisions of this Act or some former Act;
2. To establish a Library containing books on Mechanics, Manufactures, Agriculture, Horticulture, Philosophy, Science, the Fine and Decorative Arts, History, Travels, Poetry, Fiction and Biography; or
3. To open a Reading-room; or
4. To organize Evening Classes for instruction in one or more of the three following courses, namely, an English Course, comprising the study of English and Canadian History, English Grammar and Composition; a Commercial Course, comprising the study of Book-keeping, Arithmetic and Writing; a Drawing Course, comprising the study of Freehand, Architectural and Mechanical Drawing;
5. To report before the 1st of May, in each year, to the Education Department, in such from as may be prescribed by the Minister of Education.
By April 15, 1887, the Institute was fully organized and rooms had been rented in the Jukes' building on Gibson St. where a Reading Room was open one day a week. The annual subscription was set at $1.50. For the ladies of the village who wanted to join the cost was fifty cents.
On May 2, 1887, the first annual meeting of the Mechanics' Institute was held in the Reading Room. Officers from the previous year were re-elected - John McClelland (President), D. McEachran (Secretary), and D.M. Whyte (Treasurer). The Directors included Messrs. Ansley, Haight, Ealton, Gaville, Huff, Tindall, and Foot. With a membership of 101 and expenditures of $81.12 in papers and periodicals, the Mechanics' Institute could expect to receive an appropriation of $50 from the Legislative Assembly because their membership was over 100. It would also receive $1 for every dollar spent on its Reading Room newspapers, magazines, or other periodicals not exceeding $50. Their first report to the Minister of Education in 1886-87 revealed that the Reading Room had 7 periodicals, 19 newspapers and no books.
In addition to a Reading Room, the Mechanics' Institute offered public lectures. Two notable lectures were "Reading for Recreation" by William Houston, Parliamentary Librarian and "Early Canadian History" by A.C. Osborne. Despite the prominence of the speakers, both lectures had a disappointing turnout. In 1889, the Directors of the Mechanics' Institute announced their intention of holding evening classes during the coming winter. Despite an attempt each season to start evening classes, 1893 was only the second time that their efforts were successful.
In October 1892, the Parry Sound Mechanics' Institute added over 200 volumes increasing their collection to over 500 volumes, and by Apr. 30, 1895 there was a total of 763 volumes in the collection. One year later there were 759 volumes. The Mechanics' Institute no longer reported owning newspapers and periodicals during the years ending April 30, 1895 and 1896, and there were no pupils in evening classes in the year ending April 30, 1895. The membership was 62 in 1895, but by April 30, 1896 it had declined to 52. In the year ending April 1896, no fees were collected and no grant was received. In the report for the year ending April 30, 1897, Parry Sound is noted only as not having sent in a report.
In 1895, the Legislature passed an Act to amend and consolidate the Acts respecting Free Libraries and Mechanics' Institutes. These amendments allowed the majority of the directors of the Mechanics' Institute to petition the municipal council to appoint a board of management as provided by Section 3 of the Act, and this board became a corporation within the meaning of the Act. The Directors of the Mechanics' Institutes could legally transfer its property to the Public Library Board on the condition that the Library be FREE.
Two years later, on August 30, 1897 after receiving a request from the Directors of the Mechanics' Institute for the establishment of a Free Library, Messrs Sam Armstrong and E.S. Rupert addressed the Council favoring the establishment of a Free Library Board and Public Reading Room. The Council gave approval to take such steps as may be necessary to establish a Free Library and reading room.
The members of the Board of Management were appointed, in compliance with Section 3 of the Act respecting Free Libraries. Messrs W.E. Foot, Wm. Evans and H.E. Stone were appointed as members of the Public Library Board for the Town. The Clerk was instructed to take the necessary steps to have the Public Library put in operation before the end of 1897.
On Feb. 1, 1898, the Public Library and Reading Room were officially opened in the Oddfellows Building on James Street. The Reading Room was open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., while the Library was open to subscribers three times a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 4 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.
George Moore became the first Librarian of Parry Sound. Along with his library duties, Mr. Moore owned and operated a stationery store and Canada Atlantic Express Office in the I.O.O.F. building. In 1900, Miss Ansley was the Librarian and had charge of the reading room.
By 1900, the Public Library was officially open Monday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m., and Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. for the exchange of books. The Reading Room was also open to the public every weekday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. A change in the location of the library took place, and in 1909 the Library was located across the street on the west side of James Street, also known as the Moore Block.
Ten years later, the membership of the Public Library stood at 600, three times higher than 1908 figures, demonstrating that the "public were patronizing the library and that they were interested in the same." In 1916, Kate Kirkman was secured as Librarian, and under her auspices the Library's popularity continued to grow. By 1918, there were approximately 3,424 volumes in circulation and by the end of 1928 - 27,417 books were loaned out.
By October 1932, it was decided to move the Library into "larger and more suitable premises" above Snelgrove's Grocery Store on Seguin Street in the building owned by William Beatty. It was during this time, with Rose McGee as Librarian, that the Library experienced a "decided increase" in its circulation of books: 32,769, as compared to 5,352 in 1928. More books were needed and the Public Library Board made an urgent appeal to the public for assistance, urging that the public donate some of their own books to the Library, thus helping to keep the "life blood" of the Library flowing. This appeal was very successful.
Town Council, in 1934, recommended that the Public Library occupy the basement in the proposed new municipal building. These new quarters, they argued, would provide 70% more floor space and 60% better lighting facilities than the present premises provided. On January 2nd 1935, the Public Library was open to the public in its new premises on Seguin Street.
Mrs. John McClelland, whose husband was the former President of the Mechanics' Institute, donated a large number of books to the library collection in 1938. The Public Library Board recorded that 1944 was its most active year in the history of the Library, with circulation soaring to 33,612, an increase of 1,955 over the figures from 1943.36 This meant that the Librarian handled over 67,000 books in one year, a record for which there was no "comparable town in the province of Ontario which has anything approaching this circulation." It was noted that library circulation was strongest in times of economic hardships and weakest during economic booms. Circulation soared to a record of 32,769 books in 1932, while during the years of 1940-43 it held steady at 28,000.
In the 1950s, the Public Library expanded not only its holdings but also its hours of operation. Library members had access to over 100 additional films set at standard rental rates. In 1952, the Library added magazines to its collection, including Canadian Business, Canadian Geographic, Food For Thought, and MacLeans. Library hours were Monday to Wednesday 2-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., closed Thursdays, and open Friday and Saturday 2-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.
In 1953, Ms.Geraldine Galna, a Public Library Board member, made an urgent appeal to the Council to consider finding a new site for the Library and highlighted the need for a larger Children's Room and a Reading Room. Mrs. C.C. Johnson urged that panic hardware on the doors leading from the library to the outside be fitted without delay, for over 100 children attended the Children's Story and Film Hour each Saturday morning and there was an added danger in case of fire.
Parry Sound's outstanding Library was rated second in the Province for its population group. The Public Library made phenomenal growth over a 15 year period from 1937 to 1952. In 1937, there were 7,320 volumes in the Library, with a circulation rate of 26,100; subsequently, 15 years later, in 1952, there were 9,555 volumes, with a circulation rate of 40,600, an increase of 55%. The membership rate also rose from 860 in 1937 to 2,200 in 1952.
In 1954, with these figures in mind and faced with inadequate space, the Public Library Board urged Council to consider a new building for the Library. The proposed site was the property owned by the Maple Leaf Restaurant on Seguin Street. Unfortunately, this site was too valuable for use by the Public Library and its proximity to the main street was not "suitable if the safety of the children is to be considered".
Later that same year, Frank Walden, a member of the Library Board's Property Committee, reported to Council that two sites had been under consideration: the Spring property on William Street and the Ryder property on Church Street. It was concluded that these sites were unsuitable. Plans had therefore been drawn up for a building to be erected on the western side of the town park. The new Library could be built on a former closed road and there was adequate width for the proposed building.
Council planned to sell the Maple Leaf Restaurant and the money was to be used to purchase another property for the library. The balance of the sale proceeds was to be given to the Library Board as a reserve fund for a new library building. Negotiations were underway with the Pentecostal Church to purchase a 15 foot piece of property. Unfortunately, negotiations broke down with both Council and the Pentecostal Church, and the building of the Public Library was once again put on hold.
The period between 1960 - 1970 was a busy decade for the Library: a campaign to increase library membership was underway; library hours were increased to meet public demand; a regional library cooperative was discussed and a new Library was constructed. Small branch libraries were opened at Gibson Street School and Isabella Street Schools.
According to 1961 figures, 3,074 people in the Parry Sound area belonged to the Library, only 50% of the total population. A campaign was set into motion to get membership up to 100%. Library hours increased 12 hours to a total of 56 hours per week 55, and a new Regional Library Cooperative for the Parry Sound-Muskoka districts was discussed. (Later this became known as the Algonquin Regional Library System). During this time the push for a new building became the focus of many dedicated people in the community. Raymond A. Smith was a driving force for the goal of a new building for the Parry Sound Public Library. The new building would also house a new regional library system called the Algonquin Regional Library System. The co-operation between the planned Algonquin Regional Library System with Mr. Smith as director and the Parry Sound Public Library was essential for the project to see a successful completion.
In March 1963, plans for a new Library were underway. The building itself was to be constructed between the new Pentecostal Church and the War Memorial on Mary Street, at a cost of $103,900.58 One year later, on March 7, 1964, the official opening at the new location took place. With the new building came new services, including the opening of the Algonquin Regional Library Office, the addition of foreign language books, records, and telephone books to the Library's holdings, and an auditorium to be rented to various local clubs and to display art exhibitions. It was also during this year, that the Library recorded a phenomenal circulation rate of 66,013, up 24,491 from the 1959 figure.
By 1968, it became clear that the Library was the center of knowledge in the community, for 69,625 volumes were circulated, compared with 66,013 in 1963 and 32,769 in 1932.62 The total number of magazines issued stood at 1,446, pamphlets 244, phonographic records 1,587, and 8 mm films 264.63 The number of adult memberships issued was 1,711, High School and Elementary School Children 3,089, and Non-residents 115.64 Despite the drop in Parry Sound's population, there was an increase in circulation, and Sam Brunton, the Town Librarian at this time, offered his theories on this phenomenon. First, there were a larger number of services available to the public; second, more extension activities were promoted in the form of film shows, exhibitions, displays, speakers, and open meetings; third, there were a greater number of books and other services provided by the Algonquin Regional Library System. Other reasons included the employment of a full-time professional Librarian, an increase in the number of hours the library was open, the new services inaugurated, and the increasing number of holiday visitors who used the Library.
In 1969, the Library's involvement expanded once more. Films from the Expo Insight '67 were shown in Market Square Park every Wednesday evening at 8 pm, beginning July 16th through to Aug.13th. To coincide with the Apollo 11 Moon Launch, the Library showed the film program "Of Stars and Men" on July 16th at 8:30 pm. Other programs were held throughout the summer.