Blair Mayor Jim Realph's granddaughter salvaged a scrapbook that is now on display in the new Blair Public Library and Technology Center's exhibit gallery. She was volunteering at the Washington County Recycling Center when she noticed a book that appeared to be valuable.
The scrapbook was started in 1915 by the Blair Public Library's first librarian, Edith Schmahling, who documented how the Ladies Library Association — a book membership organization started in the 1877 — became a free lending library. On April 20, 1915, the Blair City Council passed an ordinance that made the association's library a city-owned facility. On July 30, 1915, the council approved a 2-mill levy to support the library.
Fifteen years after conceptual planning officially commenced for the Blair Public Library an…
The council appointed the city's first library board: Mrs. C.R. Mead, Mrs. J.P. Jensen, Supt. W.H. Myers, Frank DeTemple, John A. Rhoades, W.H. Belknap, Mrs. D.C. VanDeusen, Supt. N.T. Lund and the Rev. A.E. Marsh.
Schmahling was soon succeeded by May McQuarrie, who served as Blair's librarian for 44 years. The majority of the scrapbook includes her newspaper clippings, library documents, photos and notes.
The scrapbook contains a clipping from an unidentified newspaper documenting the city council's decision to take over the library.
"The passing of the ordinance by the council that made this possible was the biggest act of its career, and those interested feel especially thankful to councilman Nels M. Jensen for his efforts in the matter," the newspaper said.
In 1915, the Blair library was open from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturdays. The library had 1,519 volumes and its circulation was 3,059 from July 30, 1915, to Jan. 30, 1916.
The first Blair library building opened in 1917. It was one of 2,509 libraries built worldwide with donations from Andrew Carnegie — a wildly wealthy steel company magnate, Scottish immigrant and philanthropist nicknamed the "Patron Saint of Libraries." Nebraska received a total of $706,288 in Carnegie public grants to build 69 public libraries — the seventh-highest number of Carnegie libraries in the U.S. Blair received a $10,000 Carnegie donation for its library.
According to a story in the scrapbook about the dedication of the library, the Blair library was built of pressed brick. It contained a children's reading room, reference room, librarian's room and library board room. The reading quarters had paper racks, hat racks and "other handsome pieces of library furniture," the story said. The basement had an auditorium, restroom and storage.
The Blair library was damaged by a fire in 1973. The city dedicated a new library building at 210 S. 17th St. in 1976.
McQuarrie retired in 1959 at age 74, and died the following year.
In a story from the July 1, 1959, Omaha World-Herald about her retirement, "Miss McQuarrie" lamented about her career.
"Being a librarian is more than just taking care of books," she said. "Here, you get to know people better. Somehow, you are in closer touch with them."