Wolfner Library's History
THE EARLY YEARS 1924-1937
Before the creation of a special department for the blind in 1924, the St. Louis Public Library had loaned braille books to blind patrons for some time. In 1924, Dr. Arthur Bostwick, librarian of the St. Louis Public Library, formed a department for the blind at the request of the St. Louis Society for the Blind. Organized as an independent venture and directed by Mr. Edward Endicott, blind himself, the department began with a small collection of braille books for the use of St. Louis citizens. The department in 1924 contained 360 volumes and had a circulation of fewer than 100 volumes.
On 8 January 1924, this special department commenced operations by actively seeking interested blind readers. Besides the desire to increase circulation, the main activities of the department for the blind were the organization of literary clubs and the formation of a music society.
When the Pratt-Smoot bill became law on 3 March 1931, a national program of free library service to adult blind readers was established. President Herbert Hoover signed the bill into law authorizing an annual expenditure of $100,000 by the federal government to develop the library program on a regional and national level. In 1931, the St. Louis Public Library was selected by the Library of Congress as one of eighteen regional libraries to conduct this free library service. Based on the library's existing collection for the blind, the St. Louis Public Library had been selected to circulate braille books furnished by the federal government.
Two significant accomplishments in 1933 were the adoption of a system of braille known as Standard English Braille, and the development of the talking book, a phonograph recording of reading materials. The talking book program, initiated by the federal government in 1934, brought reading materials to the blind who could not read braille. Talking book machines, constructed and provided by the federal government, significantly increased the availability of reading materials to the blind. In 1934, Mr. Endicott reported that circulation of braille publications alone had reached nearly 52,000 and that blind persons using the library were more eager readers than the sighted. The library then contained 15,000 volumes, 500 of which were talking books. Circulation was handled by mail using the "free matter" mailing privilege.
In 1936, recognizing a shortage of branch libraries and the need for better facilities for the special collection, a group of St. Louis citizens headed by Dr. Meyer Wiener, formed a corporation with the sole purpose of erecting a library building for the blind. The aim of the corporation was not only to provide a spacious library but a center for recreation as well. St. Louis at that time had nothing comparable. The corporation planned to raise funds to build a library as a memorial to Dr. Wiener's colleague and noted eye specialist, Dr. Henry L. Wolfner, who had practiced in St. Louis for several years before his death in 1935. Dr. Wiener, himself an eye specialist who had retired from active practice and former director of prevention of blindness on the Missouri Commission for the Blind, noted that the large size of braille books and talking books required more space than that needed in the average library. At that time the department for the blind in the St. Louis Public Library, located at Olive and Thirteenth Street, was situated in the basement of the building. The space was considered to be cramped and inaccessible by the library staff. Since the St. Louis Public Library contained one of the most extensive collections for the blind and its circulation was second only to that of the collection for the blind at the Library of Congress, Dr. Wiener appeared before the library board in 1936 and offered to raise money for a building exclusively devoted to the talking book and braille collection. The board refused to accept the gift because the library budget would not allow financial support of the building. The second time that Dr. Wiener proposed the idea to the board, the offer was accepted.
A description of the basement quarters at the public library in 1937 showed the need for better facilities. Some 21,828 books were arranged on shelves with the extra volumes stored in book cases. The circulation at that time was 71,504. The department contained the most complete children's library for the blind, although children's services were not yet part of the free national program. One children's book from the collection bears the following descriptions:
An amusing volume, and the only illustrated one in the collection, is The Three Little Pigs. Illustrated by Walt Disney's studio, the figures are outlined in dots. Blind children like to feel the outlines; it is as real to them as the colored pictures would be to sighted children. The book is badly finger marked and worn from the touch of little hands.
The business at that time was nearly all mail order, and the librarian, Mrs. Martha Stark, rarely came in direct contact with blind patrons. More than 47,000 adult books and 23,000 children's books were circulated.
Until the new library quarters could be financed by the corporation, reading rooms for the blind were established in the Marquette School at 4015 McPherson Avenue. The St. Louis Board of Education gave permission to the corporation to furnish two rooms in the Marquette School with all of the necessary equipment. The school was selected on the basis of its being conveniently located near the section in which a number of blind persons lived. At the same time the corporation planned to begin collection of funds to finance the building. After the building was purchased, the St. Louis Public Library had agreed to take care of its maintenance.
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REALIZATION OF A UNIQUE LIBRARY, 1937-1938
On 19 May 1937, Dr. Wiener announced plans to purchase a two-story brick building located at 3844 Olive Street. The building was to be known as the Henry L. Wolfner Memorial Library for the Blind. By that time the corporation had raised $3,000 in public subscriptions and $1,000 had been paid on the purchase of the building previously owned by the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. Although the building was valued at $130,000, according to the company books, it was sold for $40,000. Dr. Weiner was almost totally responsible for raising the money with the majority of contributions ranging from $25 to $500 and donated by a small number of people.
Even though the Henry L. Wolfner Memorial Library for the Blind was still in the planning stage, it was praised as another humanitarian addition to the city. St. Louis was already comprised of numerous medical and vocational facilities affiliated with organizations for the blind and now would be provided with social, recreational, and cultural opportunities for the blind made possible by the new library. The Henry L. Wolfner Memorial Library for the Blind would be the first of its kind in the United States, since a survey revealed that there was no other library for the blind situated in its own building with the facilities organized purposely for the convenience of its patrons. The blind were to decide upon the kinds of social activities, with concerts, lectures, and dances subjects of consideration. This unique library was to bring new activities to blind individuals. The location at 3844 Olive Street, was within reach of 90 percent of the city's blind population. At that time, the 1,600 to 2,000 blind individuals in the city had no place of their own to meet.
On 6 May 1938, the board of directors of the St. Louis Public Library received a deed from Dr. Wiener for the library building. The dedication of the new branch library was set for eight o'clock in the evening on 6 June 1938, with the building opened at two o'clock in the afternoon for the general public to visit. The ceremony was attended by roughly 300 individuals, many of whom were blind.
President of the Library Board, O'Neill Ryan, was in charge of the dedication. One of the speakers, Miss Adeline A. Ruenzi, blind herself and a patient of Dr. Wiener, described the new library as a realization of her dreams. Since Wolfner was the first branch library building to be given to St. Louis by a group of citizens, Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann expressed his appreciation in saying that, along with the Missouri School for the Blind and other facilities, the library distinguished St. Louis as "an outstanding educational and cultural center for blind citizens."
The new building at 3844 Olive Street provided the space that had not been offered by the basement location at the public library. The basement and first floor of the new building covered 17,000 square feet. Part of the basement was allotted for storage room, but one section was set aside as an area for a clothes exchange. Donated clothing was stored there until needed. The first floor housed braille books. A great deal of storage room was essential, since the average book duplicated in braille amounted to seventeen huge volumes. The first floor was also used as a library reading room with Mr. Edward Endicott in command. Shelves were built for braille books and talking books, while tables and chairs were placed in convenient spots for patrons who desired to read materials in the library. The second floor, a community center, consisted of meeting rooms for cultural and service organizations for blind individuals. It was furnished with an electric stove and a refrigerator plus enough china to accommodate 100 persons. A large auditorium on the second floor seated 400 people for lectures and other programs. The auditorium and a smaller room were designated as musicians quarters for a seventeen-piece orchestra's practice sessions. The Service Club for the Blind occupied the second floor and conducted the various activities. Music and books were transcribed into braille by friends of blind individuals who came to the library. The first season for the blind in the new center began 27 September 1938. Dr. Wiener was honored for his contribution and efforts on 5 December 1938.
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ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE NEW LOCATION, 1938-1970
A service extended by the Wolfner Library in 1939 was the distribution of books to the Missouri School for the Blind. Each Saturday, 100 books were delivered to the children. The talking book program was also utilized with talking books being sent to patrons in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. At that time the Missouri Commission for the Blind in St. Louis controlled the lending of talking book machines upon written requests.
On 26 July 1940, the librarian at the St. Louis Public Library, Charles H. Compton, noted that during the past year Wolfner distributed more braille books and talking books than had any other library for the blind in the United States. Comparison of statistics for libraries for the blind printed in the annual report of the Library of Congress revealed this accomplishment accurately. Nearly 81,345 volumes of braille books and talking books had been issued to 2,265 blind readers in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.
World War II brought a new phase of service to the Wolfner Library. On 29 May 1946, Charles Compton reported that Wolfner's efforts were directed to providing talking books to blinded veterans of the war. Statistics for that year indicated that of the 5,125 known blind persons in Missouri and Kansas, almost 2,000 patrons regularly borrowed books from Wolfner. Of the 45,776 volumes mailed, talking books numbered 22,344 and braille books reached 23,432. At that time Mr. Edward Endicott was Supervisor of Work with the Blind, and Margaret M. McDonald was the librarian. By 1950, Wolfner Library service had increased to such an extent that more room was required. The Service Club for the Blind, which had occupied rooms on the second floor for several years, moved to a new location at 4312 Olive.
A new program in March 1951 involved the recording of textbooks for blind students in college. Recordings of college texts were made by Wolfner on a machine purchased by a volunteer organization. The service charge for each recorded disc was ten cents. The playing time for each disc was fifteen minutes with the number of records depending on the text's length. Previously the recordings were made by the New York Public Library for the Blind.
In 1952, the Pratt-Smoot Act was amended to include library services to children. The word "adult" was deleted from the basic act to provide the same service to children. Wolfner Library added a children's room to accommodate this new service.
By June 1959, Wolfner marked its twenty-fifth anniversary of circulating books for the blind through a program conducted by the Library of Congress. More than 2,000 patrons were borrowing books by then. The library's efforts were directed at reaching more patrons by urging doctors to tell their blind patients about the library.
Until 1961, the St. Louis Public Library had provided the building, equipment and staff for library service to blind readers in both Kansas and Missouri; services to Arkansas had been discontinued earlier. An agreement between the state of Kansas and the St. Louis Public Library enabled financial support for services to blind patrons in Kansas. The city librarian, Louis M. Nourse, announced that arrangements had been made to provide library service to Kansas through Wolfner on a cost basis. A conference on 17 March 1961, culminated in a signed contract in which the Kansas Division for the Blind agreed to pay $12,750 yearly to St. Louis Public Library. Since payment for the service would not be effective until 1 July 1961, Wolfner continued to serve Kansas readers free-of-charge until that date.
A similar instance of reimbursement was initiated in 1963 when the State of Missouri began to pay the St. Louis Public Library for Wolfner's services. The Seventy-second General Assembly of Missouri passed Senate Bill 286, an amendment to reimburse any public library in Missouri that was selected by the Library of Congress to serve Missouri patrons. This additional reimbursement allowed the St. Louis Public Library to improve the services provided by Wolfner. New personnel were added to Wolfner's staff, procedures were improved, and tape duplication equipment was purchased to aid in the detailed work of the library.
In July 1964, the Wolfner Library was cited in Talking Book Topics as 'library of the month.' The librarian then was Helen Cannon. From 1964 to 1965, about 3,165 blind persons had received library service. Of this amount 1,972 lived in Missouri while 1,193 resided in Kansas. During that period of time 121,503 books were loaned from Wolfner.
From 1965 to 1966, the total number of blind persons served by Wolfner reached 3,395 of which 2,l79 were patrons in Missouri and 1,216 were borrowers in Kansas. Improved service was brought in 1966 in the form of a quarterly newsletter, "Word from Wolfner," which had appeared before in small type but was then issued in large type for those who were partially sighted. The publication consisted of from four to six pages of information regarding books available in large type, braille and talking books. In 1966, descriptive kits from Wolfner were mailed to 700 public libraries in Missouri and Kansas. Since Wolfner was only reaching 20 percent of the blind in the area of the two states, these kits were used to familiarize more of the blind with library services offered by Wolfner.
The year 1966 was also noteworthy in that Congress enacted Public Laws 89-522 and 89-511, which extended the national program to the physically handicapped. The Division for the Blind at the Library of Congress added "and Physically Handicapped" to its title. By 1967, Wolfner had expanded its services to the physically handicapped. It was not until 13 September 1968 that the name of Wolfner was changed to the Wolfner Memorial Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Wolfner also became the Talking Book Machine Agency for Missouri in 1968.
The services to the non-blind readers increased rapidly, and by September 1969 there were 4,300 readers in Missouri and Kansas. Over 600 of these 4,300 were either physically handicapped or visually impaired but not legally blind. Wolfner at this time did not provide textbooks to students, but provided both nonfiction and fiction supplementary readings.
In December 1969, a cassette program was added to improve services at Wolfner. The cassette program was of a limited nature. The acting librarian Miss Leanne Miller, described the program in saying:
We have fewer than one hundred machines and very few books to lend and everything is on a first come, first served basis," adding that, "frequently it may be necessary for cassette borrowers to wait some time to receive the books which they request.
An experimental program of cassette tapes was initiated in 1970 with a $420,945 grant provided by the Library Services and Construction Act (Sect. IV B). The Missouri State Library awarded the grant to Wolfner for the acquisition of two tape duplicators, one for reel-to-reel tapes and the other for cassette magnetic tapes. A braille duplicating machine was bought, and two more staff members were hired for the production, selection and distribution of tapes. The demand for tapes and tape cassettes had greatly increased with up to fifty different readers at a time waiting to receive only one recording.
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THE SECOND MOVE, 1970-1977
By 4 December 1970, the St. Louis Public Library's board of directors had approved relocating the Wolfner Library. Since the building at 3844 Olive Street had been built in 1898, it was in need of repair and was no longer deemed suitable. The newly selected location was at 1808 Washington Avenue; the fourth floor of the McDonald Building, which covered an area of 17,000 square feet, was leased.
The Wolfner Library at 3844 Olive Street closed business on 21 December 1970 to prepare for the move. The staff did not remain idle, but were utilized to take inventory and to move approximately 50,000 items. Services were temporarily halted for about one month. Mailing of books and replacement of machines were stopped. Magazines, however, continued to be sent while shipment of books did not begin until 25 January 1971. Kansas reader files from Wolfner were moved to the new Kansas regional library in Topeka which established library services to the blind on 30 June 1971. Wolfner Library no longer provided services to Kansas residents.
The move to the McDonald Building began on 4 January 1971, and was finished on 13 January 1971. The librarian at Wolfner, Mrs. Ida Hyte Shaw, reorganized the twenty staff members to operate six departments. A considerable number of reader requests had built up during the move and 15,000 items were mailed in April alone. An automated addressing system was prepared to facilitate the mailing operations. Since over 150,000 items per year were sent from Wolfner, the addition of this new system was greatly needed. The number of reader requests meant that mailing records had to be updated often, and the new automated system increased the overall speed of service.
In August 1971, Wolfner issued a brochure which described its services. Copies of the brochure were sent to all libraries in Missouri. The media in the area, radio stations, newspapers, and television stations, received brochures as well. As a companion to the brochure, a phonograph record was also distributed to new patrons. Part of the script for the recording describes the nature of Wolfner's operations and services:
In the packet mailed to you, we included a questionnaire asking for information about yourself and the types of books you want to read... this information is vital to us in giving you good service.... Select the titles of books you want to read from the catalog we have sent to you and from the issues of Talking Book Topics which you will be receiving.... It is best to keep a list of from 25 to 50 titles of books you want to read on file at Wolfner.... Most of our newer books are in constant circulation and may not be on the shelf when you ask for them.... We can supplement our collection through referral to the Library of Congress or other sources.... Wolfner supplies no musical materials of any kind.... We consider ourselves to be essentially a public library.... We differ from the typical public library in that most of our readers do not live in the community in which we are located, so our service is primarily mail orders.... We are not geared to handle a large number of walk-in borrowers. Our entire service is based upon service by mail.
By 1972, Wolfner's staff consisted of fourteen full-time and four part-time members. The library served over 5,210 readers with a budget of $127,395. The special collections which the library held included reference materials on blindness and other disabilities.
Mrs. Pennie Peterson, who was the librarian at Wolfner from 1971-1985, described Wolfner's objective as being the same service mission as that of the St. Louis Public Library. During Mrs. Peterson's tenure, a staff of fourteen conducted library services. Wolfner's holdings consisted of approximately 75,000 talking books, 9,000 cassettes, 10,000 titles of braille, and 500 titles in large type. The large type program, which was funded locally, was not part of the free program conducted by the Library of Congress. Materials are classified according to the medium and acquisition number. Neither the Dewey Decimal System nor the Library of Congress System was, or is used, for cataloging materials. A record is kept for each item. During the fiscal-year 1972 to 1973 the number of items loaned amounted to 167,000. The most popular works were those of a religious nature, mysteries and westerns.
Wolfner used every media available to inform the public of its services. Wolfner also helped to initiate a Radio Information Service for the Blind at a radio station located in Belleville, Illinois. This service provided persons with print disabilities in the St. Louis metropolitan area access to newspapers. The radio station had no direct affiliation with Wolfner Library.
In 1977, following a recommendation of Missouri's State Auditor, the Missouri State Library became the administering agency for Wolfner, discontinuing the payments to St. Louis Public Library. At this time, the Missouri State Library and Wolfner Library were under the administration of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. Richard Miller of the state library staff was appointed Coordinator of Special Projects, with responsibility for Wolfner. The hours of operation were increased from 42.5 hours per week to 45 hours per week, Monday-Friday, increasing the time that patrons could contact the library.
Also, in 1977, automation of the library's circulation system was critically needed. A PDP 1170 computer was purchased from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) under a "time-share" agreement with St. Louis Public Library. Software written specifically for circulation of materials from a library for the blind & physically handicapped was purchased from Data Research Association (DRA). Wolfner Library was DRA's first customer and was one of the earliest libraries for the blind and physically handicapped in the United States to use computer technology for circulation records of machines and books.
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THE NEXT MOVES, 1979-1991
In 1979 the Wolfner Advisory Council was formed. This statewide group is composed of 13 members who, serving terms of three years on a staggered basis, are comprised of patrons, representatives of organizations for the blind, and appointees from state agencies. The mission of the Council is to advise on ways to better serve the library needs of print-disabled Missourians.
In 1981, there were a total of 17 staff members in addition to the Coordinator of Blind and Physically Handicapped Services providing library services to 6,739 active users throughout Missouri. Demonstration and deposit collections were located in 129 libraries, 64 schools, 138 nursing homes, and 39 hospitals. In 1982, Wolfner Library's landlord wished to expand into the space being used by the library. Since it was difficult to find a cost-effective space large enough for the library, Wolfner's offices, with the reader advisors and librarian were moved into office space of the fourth floor of the Shell Building, at 1221 Locust Street, directly across the street from St. Louis Public Library's Central Library. The braille and recorded collections and circulation staff were housed on the fifth floor of the Rudman Building in the 1200 block of Washington Avenue.
In the spring of 1985, the Missouri Department of Higher Education determined that, in order to increase efficient administration and operation, Wolfner Library should be moved to Jefferson City, to be housed within the Missouri State Library in the Truman State Office Building, located at 301 W. High Street. Books were issued to patrons until May when the last books were mailed in preparation for the move and for transferring all of Wolfner's circulation and collection records to Wolfner's own computer system. A VAX 11-750 was purchased from DEC for Wolfner's sole use. In 1990, Wolfner upgraded hardware to a DEC Microvax 3900. Software from DRA continues to be utilized.
Nine staff members moved from their homes in St. Louis in order to continue providing Wolfner Library services to patrons. Six of those loyal staff members still work at Wolfner. Richard Miller, of the Missouri State Library staff, became Regional Librarian. In 1986, when Mr. Miller became Acting State Librarian, Elizabeth Eckles, Wolfner's Service Librarian, became the current Director of Wolfner.
Also in 1985, the Friends of the Wolfner Library was organized and, in 1986, became incorporated as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt entity. The mission of the Friends is to support the library's service and strive toward its improvement. Since their inception, the Friends have accomplished many fine projects for Wolfner, such as sponsoring the annual summer reading program for children, supplying the volunteer narration project with equipment and books, and the recognition of volunteers and long-serving staff.
In 1987, space constraints dictated that the Missouri State Library, including Wolfner Library, be moved from the Truman State Office Building to temporary quarters located at 2002 Missouri Boulevard in Jefferson City while the Missouri State Information Center was constructed. In 1991 Wolfner was moved into the Missouri State Information Center, along with the offices of Missouri's Secretary of State.
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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS, 1991-present
In 1991, the Missouri legislature passed Senate Bill 197, moving the Missouri State Library, including Wolfner Library under the administration of the Office of the Secretary of State. The bill was effective July 1, 1993.
In 1993, the Friends committed themselves to the purchase of descriptive videos for the use of Wolfner patrons. Descriptive videos are popular movies with narration added describing actions, costuming and set design that are visible on the screens.
In late 1994, a reference librarian, a children's librarian and a fourth reader advisor were added to the staff to enhance services. In 1995, Wolfner's long-awaited newsletter, Wolfner NEWS, became a reality. (Publication of The Eye Opener had ceased). Issued three times per year to all registered patrons and other interested parties, Wolfner NEWS informs patrons of new developments and activities of the library. Wolfner NEWS is available in large print, braille and cassette formats. In 1997, a children's newsletter, More Tales to Tell, began. This newsletter is issued to all registered patrons receiving children's books, all registered schools, and other interested parties. It, too, is available in large print, braille and cassette formats.
Another development of fiscal year 1996 was the passage by the State legislature of House Bill 438. This bill revised Missouri statutes to enable the interest earned by the Wolfner Gift Trust Fund to be returned Gift Trust Fund. The Wolfner Gift Trust Fund was established in the late 1970's following major bequests to Wolfner. It was established for the receipt of monetary donations to Wolfner Library. However, interest earned from the investment of the funds had always been placed in Missouri's General Revenue funds, which are divided between the budgetary requests of all state departments and agencies. With the passage of HB 438, these monies will be set aside for the benefit of Wolfner Library, either for re-investment or for expenditure.
In fiscal year 1997, Wolfner Library circulated a total of 580,493 books (51,501 books on records; 519,613 books on recorded cassettes; 9198 braille books; 181 large print books) to 21,000 patrons. Three thousand seven hundred and fifty magazines were circulated from Wolfner Library in addition to the magazines issued to patrons through the National Library Service's direct-mail program which issues magazines to patrons directly from the producers.
Currently, the staff of Wolfner Library consists of 22 full-time and two part-time staff members, with four professional librarians, four reader advisors, six technical and para-professional staff, and 10 clerical staff. The library serves the reading and information needs of 21,000 patrons.
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WOLFNER'S FUTURE, 1997-
Wolfner Library has recently completed the process of making the catalog of the collections available electronically through Internet/telnet access. The OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) became available on Wednesday, December 4, 1997, as a link from Wolfner's website. Those who have access to a computer with a modem may access the catalog by dialing (573) 751-0318; this is a toll call from outside the Jefferson City area.
The staff of Wolfner Library have many hopes and dreams for future improvements. One of those dreams includes a recording studio and a braille production center for adding Missouri-related titles and publications to the collection that are not provided by the federal government.
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