Funds began trickling in 28 years ago in support of the Seward Memorial Library, which now sits on the corner of Fifth and South streets in Seward—but it wasn’t always there.
The current library was built in 2003, just across the street from its predecessor, the Seward Public Library in the Carnegie building at the corner of Fifth and Main streets.
The new building was funded largely by memorial contributions, and staff members are remembering those contributors this month and planning a party to celebrate the building’s 15-year anniversary.
“We really wanted to have a party to say thank you to the community for 15 years of support, and their support prior to that,” library director Becky Baker said.
According to the library’s website, the Seward Public Library began as a reading room in 1888. After a tornado struck in 1913, the reading room was turned into a library inside the Carnegie building, which was built with donations and a grant from Andrew Carnegie through the Carnegie Library Commission.
His contributions of more than $55 million aided in the creation of 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 1,679 of which were built in the United States, according to Carnegie.org.
Carnegie’s philanthropy didn’t stop at libraries. He also set up the Carnegie Corporation of New York, through which he helped fund the discovery of insulin and the dismantling of nuclear weapons, in addition to creating Pell Grants (which provide federal funds to help students pay for college) and the Sesame Street television program.
Seward’s Carnegie library was renovated in both the 1960s and 1980s, but eventually the library’s collection stagnated because there was no more room for books.
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“Every year, the Fourth of July sale of used books in front of the old Carnegie building became a vivid reminder that for every new book purchased, one had to be discarded,” the Seward Library Foundation website said.
The Foundation was organized in 1990 to raise money for a new building, which opened its doors on Sept. 2, 2003, after 13 years of planning and fundraising to “write the next chapter.”
Much like firefighters of centuries past who formed bucket brigades to put out a fire, a book brigade of volunteers young and old passed the books—in order—from the old building across the street and onto the shelves of the new library.
The collection grew, along with programming, inside the new building.
In 2013, the “finishing the book” campaign transformed the concrete shell of the lower level into a home for the library’s fiction collection, which allowed the children’s books and nonfiction collection to expand upstairs.
Designed to match the upstairs, the lower level opened in September 2013, exactly 10 years from the first floor’s opening.
The lower level includes meeting and study rooms, a die-cut room, genealogy room with local and state resources and a conference center with a kitchen, which may be rented for organization or personal use.