The first “library” facilities for Canadian were found in the Stockmen’s Mercantile Company, where rental book were available. The year was 1903. In August of that year, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U) established a small reading room in the rear of a bank in the downtown area. The members of the local W.C.T.U. soon decided they needed a building for their activities. Their plan was to house a library and a meeting room in the upper part of the building and the lower floor of the building would include a big dining room area and a kitchen. They would have an annual Bazaar and serve turkey dinners to raise money to support the library and to pay for the maintenance of the building. In 1911 the W.C.T.U. member’s dream was realized and the building was complete. A big celebration was held in 1917 when the mortgage was paid off.
The building has seen many interesting events over the years, including the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, during which the building was used as a hospital for the ill. The community was a big supporter of the war effort (both WWI, and WWII) and many care packages were prepared in the meeting room and sent to these serving overseas.
In 1923, the ladies of the W.C.T.U. saw their way clear to open the library. On March 23, the library facilities were formally opened with 500 books in the collection. At first the members of the W.C.T.U. served as librarians. In 1939 a paid librarian was hired through the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) to keep the library open every afternoon, including three hours on Sunday. This position was filled by Mrs. Olga Morris, who remained in this capacity until 1965.
The building was recognized as a Texas Historical Landmark in 1966, as the only structure in the nation that was built, owned, and operated by a local chapter of the W.C.T.U.
The local chapter of the W.C.T.U. disbanded in 1972 and ownership of the library was transferred to Hemphill County, and became Hemphill County Library. In November of that year the library was formally accepted as a member of the Texas Panhandle Library System (TPLS). When the local W.C.T.U. chapter disbanded, Hemphill County Library Foundation was formed. The Foundation continued to pay the utilities, maintain the building, and supported library functions until 1998 when the County assumed all upkeep. The Foundation currently continues to host the annual bazaar and raise funds to purchase books and help fund programs for the community.
The meeting room upstairs was added to the existing library space in 1973, doubling its capacity. An addition was added in 1980, doubling the size of the building, in which a meeting room and storage areas were added downstairs The entire area upstairs was used to house the books, a children’s Story Time room and workroom. An elevator was also added at this time.
At the insistence of the Foundation, in December of 2008 the Library under went a major renovation. The collection was relocated to the City Hall auditorium while the library building was completely gutted, new floors laid, new windows installed and a new heating and air conditioning system installed. The library reopened in it’s “new” facility July 18, 2011. The collection was split at this time with the youth books housed downstairs while the children’s and adult’s book were relocated upstairs. Hemphill County Library has approximately 39,000 items in its collection which includes not only books (including Spanish and large print), but also DVD’s, audio books, periodicals, microfilm, public computers, WiFi and e-books. The Library has also worked hard over the past few years to get the local newspaper collection online. With thanks to the University of North Texas, who hosts the collection in the Portal to Texas History, we are very close at this time.
Hemphill County Library is an active member of the Harrington Library Consortium (formerly TPLS), from which we receive many benefits. Some of those benefits include an integrated library system, technical support, professional training, databases and e-books, very little of which we could afford on our own. Hemphill County Library also participates in the OCLC inter-library loan program.
The community is proud of its library and supports it very generously in many ways. In return the library personnel try very hard to serve the community well.
History compiled by April Dillon, Library Director 31 October 2012.