History of the Ferndale Public Library

BOOKS, MOON ROCKS, AND WIRELESS INTERNET:
A Brief History of the Ferndale Library
by Jean Spang

The Ferndale Public Library formally opened in November 1930. Displacing City offices in the former Central School at 130 Nine Mile Rd., just east of Woodward, the new library that first day had some 2,000 volumes, plus 200 loaned by the State Library.1 (The building later housed the Ferndale Board of Education and is now privately owned.) Etta Vivian was the librarian; she had one assistant. Some 1,500 library cards were issued that first year of operation.

The library’s history from these earliest days onward reflects the history of Ferndale in unique ways. Deemed “a city marvelous” in publicity releases of the time, Ferndale’s phenomenal growth in the late 1920s had earned it nationwide media attention as “the fastest-growing city in the U.S.”2 Henry Ford’s offer of $5 a day to workers on his Highland Park assembly line attracted workers nationwide, making Ferndale one of America’s first “bedroom communities.” Census figures in 1930 showed that, in one decade, the city’s population had increased 687.8% to 20,796. Such rapid development was due to the city’s key location on Woodward, Detroit’s continued northward growth, and the region’s installation of a solid infrastructure, including state-of-the-art water/sewerage systems, paving, and even gas mains and electrical systems which allowed Woodward to be the “best-lighted highway in the U.S.”3

Thus, Ferndale by 1930 was ready to support a library, hallmark of an American city’s success. The city’s initial budget for the library: $5,000, which included Etta Vivian’s salary of $1,500 per year, and $2,000 (40 percent) for books. Within a year, the library had 2,217 books; within a decade, 10,581.4 In 1937, a Friends of the Library group was formed, the first of its kind in Michigan. (This group, except for periods during World War II and the 1990s, has operated continuously to support library programs and services.) “One of the finest in this section” was how the library was characterized in a City of Ferndale commemorative booklet in 1944.

Ferndale’s first library, 130 E. Nine Mile Rd.
Ferndale’s first library, 130 E. Nine Mile Rd.
Photo Courtesy of: Ferndale Historical Museum

City interest in the library reached its all-time high 10 years later, in 1954, when a new library, at 222 E. Nine Mile Rd., was built next to the old library. Bery & Knapp were the architects, and Ralph Ulveling, Director of the Detroit Public Library, was among the prestigious library professionals who served as consultants. Lincoln High School students, Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and Campfire Girl troops, and the general public helped to move the old library’s collection to the new building, a state-of-the-art facility complete with the latest 1950s architecture and Herman Miller furniture.

The library under construction, 1953
The library under construction, 1953
Photo Courtesy of: Jack M. Richards, Photographer

Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams was the honored guest at the library’s opening celebration, April 25, 1954. Ferndale residents at the reception that day were immediately impressed by the facility’s spacious reading areas, generous spacing of book stacks, readily accessible reference and circulation areas, many windows, and the large community meeting room, all of which perfectly complemented the distinctive 1950s exterior. The new building quickly became the defining presence of Ferndale’s civic center. Not until 1987, when new ceilings and lighting were installed, were major library renovations required.

Governor G. Mennen Williams (in trademark bow tie) at the library’s Open House, April 25, 1954
Governor G. Mennen Williams (in trademark bow tie) at the library’s Open House, April 25, 1954
Photo Courtesy of: Jack M. Richards, Photographer

The card catalogue, reading area, and west stacks, 1954
The card catalogue, reading area, and west stacks, 1954
Photo Courtesy of: Jack M. Richards, Photographer

Reference area, looking south to the adult reading room, 1954
Reference area, looking south to the adult reading room, 1954
Photo Courtesy of: Jack M. Richards, Photographer

Reading area, looking east to circulation desk, 1954
Reading area, looking east to circulation desk, 1954
Photo Courtesy of: Bayard F. Lawes, Tribune Staff Photographer

Community meeting room, 1961, during annual photography exhibit
Community meeting room, 1961, during annual photography exhibit
Photo Courtesy of: Barth Studio

The library has had five chief librarians: Mrs. Vivian, 1930-46; Elizabeth Baker, 1946-52; Roger Walcott, 1952-60; Enid DeTar, 1961-77, Daidee Springer, 1977-84; and Mary Trenner, 1984-present. Ferndale’s population by 1970 numbered 22,105. This figure held through the 1980s when the library employed 10 full-time and 4 part-time staff, had an annual budget of $325,000, with $15,000 (4.7 percent) allotted for new materials, and housed 70,000 books (a number of which, Daidee Springer noted in a report,5 were outdated) and some 2,200 additional items. Population peaked in 1990 at 25,084, dropping by the year 2000 to 22,105, a figure which Mary Trenner has noted is only some 2,000 more than in 1930.

Reference area looking south to reading area, 2006
Reference area looking south to reading area, 2006
Photo Courtesy of: Ferndale Historical Museum

By 2004, a combination of declines in state support for cities and the desire for more public involvement led the City of Ferndale to “spin-off” the library, establishing it as an independent body with an elected board and a one-mill dedicated tax. The newly independent library quickly began a series of public surveys and a strategic planning process which was completed in early 2006 and which the library is now bringing to life. The immediate positive results including interior redesign, an increased budget for materials and plans to lengthen hours of library operation. The community surveys revealed that Ferndale residents had high hopes for the changes and expressed considerable enthusiasm about the possibility of increased library services and activities.

Throughout its existence, the library has been ever focused on providing Ferndale residents with new information access means. In 1974 the Ferndale Public Library became the 24th library in Oakland County to join the new Wayne-Oakland Federated Library system (later expanded to include libraries in other counties and renamed “The Library Network”), allowing library patrons to borrow materials from any member library. And, thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation, in 2000 the library acquired four computers for public use, which provided patrons with ready access to information world-wide.

Over the years, besides serving as the community’s key information resource, the library has been a center for an array of activities and services. Special programs for children have been a staple since the library’s inception in 1930. In 1975 special Senior Citizen Services were introduced, including a large print book collection, an audiotape resource, and, in 1985, home delivery of materials. Concerts, puppet shows, lectures, book clubs, and political events have been regularly held in the community meeting room. (In 1985, Joan Mondale, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale, appeared at the library on a campaign stop.) For over 25 years, until the early 1990s, the library annually hosted juried art and photography shows sponsored by the Friends of the Library. The library has even hosted a moon rock; one was on display during Lunar Month, May 1975.

The 40-drawer card catalogue, 1954; Library Board members (l to r) Jeannette Grow, Bess Tewksbury, and Ann Dawson
The 40-drawer card catalogue, 1954; Library Board members (l to r) Jeannette Grow, Bess Tewksbury, and Ann Dawson
Photo Courtesy of: Ferndale Public Library Collection

The library, when it moved to its new facilities in 1954, had a card catalogue that had 40 drawers, offering access to the library’s collection by author, subject, and title. By 2005, the card catalogue, key to the library’s now 96,500-item collection, had 185 drawers. Because of its high maintenance costs, space requirements, and limited information capabilities, this catalogue was then replaced by online access. Technology, still ever-changing, had become the elemental means of information retrieval at the library. (A wireless communication system is the latest addition.) But the mission of the Ferndale Public Library and its staff has remained constant through the years: to provide ready information access for the community by the newest technology available–always responsively redefining the role of the public library in “the city marvelous.”

The library, 222 E. Nine Mile Rd., 2006
The library, 222 E. Nine Mile Rd., 2006
Photo Courtesy of: Ferndale Historical Museum

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Sources:

l Various files on the Ferndale Public Library, in the collections of the Ferndale Public Library and the Ferndale Historical Museum, give statistical information on the library’s growth.

2 “Ferndale Our City,” undated City of Ferndale publication, now in Ferndale Historical Museum files, cites Floyd Gibbons, “radio speaker and war correspondent,” who mentioned these facts about Ferndale in a June 1930 broadcast nationwide.”

3 “Ferndale Our City . . .”

4 “Golden Anniversary Party–Librarian wishes . . .” Daily Tribune, September 25, 1989 (on file Ferndale Historical Museum).

5 “Golden Anniversary Party . . .”

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This history was prepared by Jean Spang, Volunteer, Ferndale Historical Museum, 1651 Livernois, Ferndale MI, March 2006.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Mary Trenner, City Librarian, for her gracious supplying of information on current library operation.