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Library seeks to preserve Florence history

Staff writer

“Preserving the past to enjoy the future.”

The motto of Florence Public Library succinctly expresses the wide-ranging goals set by its board to not only preserve written history but also the historic building in which it is located.

“We are so excited about this building,” said board president Kathy Inlow. “We want to keep it functioning.”

Located at the south end of Main Street, the building originally housed the First National Bank, built in 1921. The east end housed the town’s first library, established a year later.

The library was moved to two other locations before it settled at 4th and Main St. in 1962.

The bank vault is known as the history room. It is used to store books that are no longer in circulation and other items of historical significance. Many were donated by residents after the historic 1951 flood destroyed the library’s contents.

A drop-down ladder in the vault leads to a cubicle where the bank guard could view the entire lobby through a small square hole in the wall.

A kitchen and meeting room are east of the main library. Next to them is a bookstore that provides cheap, secondhand books to the public. Children’s books are free.

The second floor was boarding rooms and offices. It had two full apartments, including bathrooms and radiator heat. It was the perfect place for a haunted house event last Halloween.

The board hopes to clean it up and make it a part of tours of the building.

“The library has seen a lot of changes in the past five years,” Inlow said.

Its records are computerized, and many improvements have been made thanks to grants, money from community fundraisers, and the work of volunteers.

The most recent grant was $3,000 from the American Library Association, which focused on small libraries. Florence was one of six recipients in the state. The money was used to add four more open hours.

The last grant from the Florence Community Foundation helped to provide cleaning supplies, Plexiglas partitions, and masks to keep the public safe.

Memorial money was used to refurbish the kitchen, install a new front door, and buy a new outside bench. New sidewalks were completed last year.

The board purchased banners depicting historical Florence places for downtown light poles. A volunteer provided equipment and labor to raise the floor in the kitchen.

New tables were purchased to hold public computers that provide free Wi-Fi access.

The library sold pick-up meals twice during the COVID pandemic and plans to do another one in April.

“We had to think outside the box,” board member Shanna Gilds said.

Librarian Mary Grimmett said she likes watching people’s reactions to new books. The library gets 350 books every other month from the North Central Kansas Library System.

“I love to read, and I want everybody else to read,” she said.

As encouraged by the ALA, the library board hopes to hold a town hall meeting in May to bring the community together to discuss local issues and provide information.

“If it weren’t for our patrons and volunteers, we would be nowhere,” Inlow said. “Hopefully, the community meeting in May will provide more collaboration to make Florence a better place to live.”

The library will be 100 years old next year, and the city of Florence will be celebrating 163 years. Inlow is hoping to compile a history of the historic buildings and sites around town.

Last modified March 25, 2021

 

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