Savonburg library celebrates 50 years



January 21, 2013 - 12:00 AM

SAVONBURG — The Savonburg Public Library is the smallest library in southeast Kansas. It is a small, white building on the main street, nestled against a public meeting room and a basketball court. Its diminutive size, however, is no relation to its importance to the community.
The library was started by Mabel Anderson in 1963, after garnering the support of the 100 people living in the town. She collected nearly 800 books before it opened. Before she became involved, the library consisted of a few boxes of books in the back of a community building.
Anderson was the official librarian of Savonburg for many years, though unpaid for several of those years. She told Forrest Hintz in an article for The Wichita Eagle in 1976 that the money was not the motivation for starting a library in the town.
“It was a long time before there was a salary at all,” she said. “But that wasn’t important. What was important was getting people to read.”
Ever since, the library has been the cultural center of the small, quaint town.
According to Butch Cuppet, a local resident, Mabel passed away about 15 years ago.
“She knew her books. She could find any book quickly,” Cuppet said. “She was an extremely nice lady.”
The current librarian, Kathy Hale, said people use the building as a gathering place for reading as well as for conversation.
“On any given day there will be three or four men sitting and reading the paper,” Hale said. “The kids come here a lot, and during the summer, people sometimes come just to enjoy the air conditioning.”
Of course, the library is much different from what it used to be.
A fire broke out in the library in 1981, destroying substantial amounts of equipment and books. After refurnishing, the library opened again. And while that had been an improvement, Hale said the old library building, located across from the current building, was very small and in bad repair.
Which is why the towns folk took it upon themselves to fund a new library in 2002, one that could represent more than a place you can read. The new building consists of two rooms, one for meetings and the other for the library which includes shelves of books, computers and reading tables. The spacious building was funded by money saved over time by the city council.
“My favorite part of this job is when someone walks in for the first time,” Hale said. “They don’t expect a town this small to have such a nice place.”
This year marks the public library’s 50th year in Savonburg, and it has been an effort of love and hard work to keep it above water. The money has not always been easy to find. Hale said grants help when trying to keep the doors open and the lights on.
“Times get hard sometimes, our tax bases are low, I don’t take it (the library) for granted,” she said.
Many grants come from the Southeast Kansas Library System. The Savonburg public library is the smallest in the system, and Hale said she has found only one library that is smaller in the state. She said private donors will also give books to the library as well.
The libraries in southeast Kansas would not be the same if it weren’t for support from each other, Hale said. The libraries are part of a SEKnFind program, which allows any book or video to be transferred between libraries that are a part of SEKLS. A request or hold may be placed online, and a courier delivers the book to the requested library to be picked up by the customer. There are also “rotation books” that are transferred between the libraries — they are new release books that are shared.
“I like the social contact of my job, helping kids find books, especially when they don’t just want to play games on the computer,” Hale said.
The library has free Wi-Fi 24/7 for people in the area, and Hale said oftentimes people will park outside the building after hours to use the Internet if they can not afford it in their own home.
For its 50th anniversary, the library will be hosting some sort of event every month. On Saturday, Savonburg residents attended the “kickoff” celebration — a book and video sale, along with refreshments and bingo. Around 20 people filled the small building to show their support of the library.
Hale said she hopes the anniversary events will not only bring more people to the library, but also “drudge up” more history on the library in Savonburg, and Mabel Anderson’s efforts to get it started. 
Hale sees the library as an essential element to the town of Savonburg — one that ties the community together. She hopes to carry on the legacy of the woman that started it all. The goal is the same as it was in 1963, to get more books in the hands of more people.

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