The Tecumseh District Library: Yesterday and Today
By Dorothy Smith, Revised by Mary Beth Reasoner and Chuck Harpst
When the first library opened its doors in Tecumseh in December 1836, it was not a public library, but rather an organization known as the Tecumseh Lyceum, supported by private citizens who established a collection of classical books for use by its members. Since those days, Tecumseh District Library has enjoyed a varied and interesting history, with a number of locations and supporters, as it evolved into what we know today as “The Library.” And the common thread connecting the many aspects of the library's development has been the determination and resolve of generations of Tecumseh citizens to have a public library.
According to information compiled by Mary Beth Reasoner, Historical Room Coordinator, from materials on file in the Clara Waldron Historical Room at the library, the Tecumseh Lyceum was followed by the chartering of a Private Library Association in April l883, which consisted of a semi-private library where borrowing privileges were available by subscription. In 1895, this private corporation ran out of funds and merged its assets with the Tecumseh School Library's small collection to become the Tecumseh Public Library of District No. 7. At this point, the Board of Education agreed to assume expenses of the library collection, now located in a larger room, and available to the entire school district population.
In 1903, the School Board applied for and received funding from the Carnegie Foundation for a new building to be located on Chicago Boulevard. The Carnegie Building was dedicated on February 10, 1905, as Tecumseh's public library. The site of the new library had formerly been the home of Benjamin L. Baxter, teacher, lawyer, Regent of the University of Michigan, and an early owner of the Tecumseh Herald. Mr. Baxter died two years prior to the opening of the new library, but, according to Historian Clara Waldron, many felt that the genius of this well-read man was a presiding spirit over the new endeavor.
After 75 years of effort, Tecumseh now had a free public library, supported with generous gifts of books and by a small grant of “library” money from the state, which over the years grew to be the library's major source of funding. Although the semi-public library of 1883 could be funded with private donations, Mother Goose pageants, and Dickens readings, the new public library system needed reliable funding, supplemented by gifts and state aid. In 1945, voters in the Tecumseh School District approved a separate millage for the operation of the library.
Over the years, both the community and the needs of the library grew. In 1960, the Tecumseh Community Fund Foundation identified a new public library building as a priority. Two years later, the Lenawee Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to grant the City of Tecumseh a quitclaim deed to any county interest in Military Park, the site of the present public library. The new building, funded through the Tecumseh Community Fund Foundation, was dedicated, according to an article in the October 11, 1962 issue of the Tecumseh Herald, “to the thousands who subscribed so generously to the United Fund drives that enough money was left to finance the library.” At that time, money donated “beyond the needs of the score of charities and civic groups,” could be used for community building projects.
Between 1969 and 1993, voters approved a number of millages, which served as major funding for the library, along with penal fines and state aid. In addition to operating expenses, these revenues funded the remodeling of the basement into a meeting room and a local history room. In 1982, the main floor was remodeled to incorporate the Clara Waldron Historical Room, and in the following year an addition of 3200 square feet was added to the west end of the building, with funding provided by an anonymous donor. This addition increased the library's space by forty percent.
The passage of library millages continued to fund the library until 1994 and the passage of Proposal A, which eliminated all millage funding for school district public libraries. Following the passage of Proposal A, the finance committee members of the Tecumseh School Board decided that the Tecumseh schools would continue to operate the library. At that time there were 32 libraries in the state operated by public school districts, with the Tecumseh Public Library being the only one in Lenawee County.
The association between the public library and the Tecumseh Public Schools continued until June 2002 when Superintendent Richard Fauble announced that effective July 2003, the school district would no longer assume the responsibility for supporting the library. At this time there were no more than twelve school districts in the state still maintaining libraries. A committee organized to begin the process of seeking approval to create a new district library. In compliance with state law, the approval of two or more municipalities was necessary to accomplish this. The City of Tecumseh and the Tecumseh School District each adopted resolutions that provided for the establishment of a Tecumseh District Library (TDL). Concerning funding, the library was now at the same point financially as in 1994, prior to the passage of Proposal A; a millage would be necessary to fund the library. The Interim Tecumseh District Library Board passed a resolution to seek a property tax of 1.25 mills in a May 2003 election. Unfortunately, the millage was defeated by 66 votes, 1180 to 1114.
In order to keep the library open on a limited basis with minimal funding, a newly elected Library Board of Trustees made the difficult yet necessary decision to cut staffing levels, hours of operations, number of summer youth programs, and services, including access to the Internet. In July 2003, the Board voted to seek a property tax of 1.15 mills in an October 4, 2003, election, which overwhelmingly passed and restored library services.
For many years, the Board of Trustees envisioned a library with contemporary furnishings, more internet computers and a coffee nook. Through careful fiscal planning, TDL accrued sufficient funding to fully finance the 2010 Renovation Project, which included the dreams of the Board. The majority of the funds were taken from the capital improvement fund. These funds were supplemented by the interest from the TDL Herrick fund, which the Herrick family started in 1982. Over the years, TDL used the interest from this fund to accomplish projects which were beyond the scope of the annual income.
Renovations included energy efficient lighting and new carpeting, upholstered furniture and fresh paint throughout the main level of the library. A fireplace area, a new local history room, a coffee area, 3 quiet study rooms and a computer area with 16 new public computers were added. The children’s room was refurbished, and the teen area was refreshed with 4 new public computers.
Another dream of the Board was to replace the 1960s exterior in the lower level of the library with a contemporary look and to equip the meeting rooms with the latest technology. Renovations began in fall of 2015 to make their dreams a reality. To ensure the safety of library patrons, a second egress on the east side of the building that matched the existing egress was built. A barrier-free rest room was added. Storage for tables and chairs was increased. New ceilings, walls and lights were installed. The Friends book sale room was completely refurbished. The addition of a pocket divider made it possible to split the larger meeting room into 2 smaller rooms in order to accommodate more clubs and organizations. Technological upgrades included drop-down projectors and smart boards.
Phase I of the lower level renovations was financed through the capital improvement fund. The Board of Trustees wrote several grants to underwrite the costs of Phase II.
Today, the Tecumseh District Library continues to play a vital and essential role in the community. Under the guiding hand of the seven members of the Library Board, the library director and the thirteen members of the library staff, the library is much more than simply a place to check out books. A colorful and inviting Children's Area offers not only books, but a number of different AV formats including music CDs, books on CDs, DVDs, and ebooks, as well as puppets, magazines, and seasonal collections. The teen area offers computers, graphic novels, ebooks and magazines of interest to area young adults. The adult reading area provides a quiet space for perusing reference materials, current magazines, and newspapers, as well as computers for the community to access the internet. And, of course, the bookshelves include not only the latest fiction, but also a wealth of non-fictional material pertaining to such topics as gardening, travel, genealogy, home repair projects, history, sports, and many others.
The Friends of the Tecumseh Library group has been organized to help promote library activities in ways that create interest in the library from all segments of the community. Their monthly book sales generate funds for the library, and they work closely with staff to offer programs and events that support a vital community.
From the days when the Tecumseh Lyceum served a few, the library has evolved into an institution offering a great deal to all members of the community. As the library continues to progress, it will find new directions in serving the public and enhancing the community in which we all live.