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Sunday, June 20, 2004

County library served 56 school districts

Sabine Goerke-Shrode

Building opened in 1931 ushered an era of growth

With the dedication Oct. 5, 1931 of the new Spanish Mission-style library in Fairfield, on the corner of Union and Texas Street, the Solano County Free Library was once again ready to grow.

From its inception, the Free Library had worked in collaboration with the University of California Agricultural Extension program and the Solano County Education Music Department. The staff of the county’s agricultural commissioner now shared the building with the Free Library.

At the time of moving the library operations from their temporary home to the new building, the staff consisted of Miss Gantt, her assistants Mary Ethel Goodfellow and Josephine Ramage, and Maryalice Howe Maxwell as school assistant. All were graduates of the U.C. Library School and they were joined on the staff by Anne Maddsen and Mrs. Mary Guernette, daughter of former Senator Rush.

The move was conducted between Aug. 31 and Sept. 5, 1931. County Librarian Miss Gantt recalled the move in her final report, allowing a glimpse of the enormous task of moving and shelving close to 100,000 books in five days:

“The movers with their trucks worked 2 1/2 days while the library kept two extra men on until Sept. 5th. The School Dept. had been packed in boxes (the regular shipping cartons) weeks before we expected to move in July but were held up by the shelving which was not completely installed until the last of August. The school rush had already started with the books in boxes, thousands of books in great masses. Every box was labelled with the contents so the boxes were arranged by the men in the new building according to the proposed arrangement on the shelves.

“The books of the general collection were carried out on book trucks loaned by the State Library, big heavy trucks with side guards which were rolled onto the movers (sic) trucks and rolloff (sic) on to our loading platform. These books had to be taken from the stacks at the Legion Building (the library’s temporary home in Suisun), the stacks taken down (partially) and moved out to the School Dept. and set up before the work of arranging this Dept. could go forward.

“There was no delay once the moving started forward and at one time an extra moving truck was put on to keep the trucks going with no delay. The two extra men employed for work in handling the books at both ends of the line and who stayed on for 2 1/2 days after the movers had finished, helped with the placing of the books on the shelves and with a good deal of shifting, which was necessary, for the Fairfield Branch had moved from the garage building (its temporary home) the middle of July to save rent and with just two fifteen foot stacks. The extra four stacks were then put in and the books shifted. The staff worked like Trojans just as they had after the fire and during the inventory, and in a week the place looked occupied and workable, though it was some time before the general collection was in perfect shape.”

Besides the reference collection and the general collection, the School Department was one of the major service components of the Free Library. Elementary School districts joined the library, turning their allocated moneys over, so that a specially trained librarian could purchase books and educational materials. These materials were on loan to all schools. Special emphasis was placed on reaching out to the county’s rural schools, where children did not have easy access to a branch library.

While the number of school districts varied throughout the years, the library at one time served 56 school districts. Today, many of these names are just a memory: Allendale, Armijo High, Benicia Grammar, Central, Glena Cove, Sulphur, West End, Blue Mountain, Browns Valley, Cauright, Cement, Center, Collinsville, Cooper, Crescent, Crystal, Currey, Davis Junction, Denverton, Dixon Grammar, Elmira, Fairfield, Falls, Flosden, Gomer, Grant, Green valley, Hunter, Liberty Farms, Maine Prairie, Milzner, Montezuma, Montgomery Junction, Mountain Junction, Oakdale, Olive, Owen, Peaceful Glen, Pitts, Pleasants Valley, Rhine, Rio Vista, Rockville, Round Hill, Ryer Island, Silveyville, Solano Junction, Suisun, Toland, Tolenas, Tremont, Union, Vaca Valley Union, Willow Springs, and Wolfskill.

By the 1940s, the school department housed 52,977 books, which included textbooks, supplementary readings and juvenile materials. Most of these books were in circulation at any given time. Teachers would come and select the books needed for their classes, or else write in an order and have the books shipped to them. By year’s end, they were supposed to return those book to the library.

After the 1929 fire, the school librarian realized that many of the school collection’s books had gone out but not come back. This necessitated an inventory, where she and her staff went to every school to inventory books, conduct a recall and finally remove the cards from the school catalogs for those books that ultimately were lost.

The need to reach the remote areas of the district and to maintain accountability of the loaned books resulted in the installation of a bookmobile. Maryalice Maxwell remembered in an oral history in 1988:

“So I put my mind to work and tried to figure out what we could do to get the books to the children in a better way. So that they would actually reach the children instead of being parked on the back shelf.

“Our librarian usually had a car, so we talked it over, and we decided we’d try putting some shelves in the back. We had our janitor, who was a very handy man, make us a set of shelves to fit inside the back of the car.

“We’d go down through the valley and stop at one side ... I passed books out to the children and told them stories.”

Both Anna Kyle, County Music Supervisor, and the School Nurse accompanied the bookmobile to reach out to remote schools. Often, other educators joined the trip, making the visit memorable for the students. The Blue Mountain School News, the newsletter of the Blue Mountain School students, described one such visit:

“On Tuesday, May 14, 1935, Miss Eva Holmes, Superintendent of Napa County Schools and Mr. Dan White, Superintendent of Solano County Schools, Mrs. Helen Bliss, Rural Supervisor, Mrs. Maryalice Maxwell, Assistant Librarian of Solano County, Mrs. Kyle, Music Supervisor, Mrs. Sally Ralphs, School Nurse, Mrs. H. Allridge, and Mrs. Ridgewell visited at Blue Mountain School. Due to the fact that Mr. Pyshora’s truck got out of time he was unable to bring all the visitors up. For the first time since these officials have been coming up, they drove their own cars. They found it a pleasant experience and say that they will come up more often now that they have found the way. Mrs. Kyle brought her celeste with her and played while the school children sang. Mrs. Maxwell told the story of Handel’s childhood and the experiences of Apaminnanda a little darkey boy. The one-act play, ‘The Swiss Family,’ was repeated.”

In addition to the books, Mrs. Maxwell also remembered taking fresh fruit and other food items that were hard to obtain for people in those remote areas. In return, their hosts plied them with cakes and other refreshments.

My next column will continue the history of the Solano County Library system. I am grateful to the Solano County Library for permission to use its resources and photographic collection.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will discuss whether to move the historic library building. The Solano County Historical Society and other organizations are circulating a petition urging the Supervisors not to move the library. If you’d like to add your signature, please send it, your name and address to SCH, P.O. Box 3009, Fairfield, CA 94533-0309, together with “I petition the Solano County Board of Supervisors to preserve, protect, and restore the Old Library, a Historical Landmark, at its original site at 601 Texas St. in the city of Fairfield.”