History of the Selinsgrove Community Library
The Selinsgrove Community Library is 75 years old in 2012. Begun 1937 as the “reading lounge” of the Selinsgrove Community Center, it has always relied on community spirit and support for its life and livelihood. The 2012 commemorative crock presented by the Friends of the Selinsgrove Library features the newly renovated and enlarged Library, to be named in honor of benefactor and frequent library patron, Francis R. “Rudy” Gelnett. The crock’s illustration was designed by local artist and community advocate, Rodney Ries.
The Library had its origins in the Selinsgrove Community Center. Planning for the Center began in 1936 under the auspices of the New Deal's National Youth Administration program. In 1937 these plans reached fruition when the Community Center was opened in a house located at 106 North Market Street which was held by the First National Bank and loaned gratis in lieu of local taxes. The Community Center was funded by the local Community Chest, a forerunner of the United Way. On October 2, 1939 it became incorporated.
The Community Center was a pioneer facility, recognized by national leaders in recreation and cited in leading magazines. It had programs for the young and for adults, some in instruction, such as a popular course in tap dancing, some in recreation, such as ping pong tournaments and some as programs aimed at assuring public health, such as prenatal clinics held by public health nurses. Among these programs was the reading lounge overseen by Mrs. Mary Nesbitt, Center Director. Here was the town’s first library. It had over 300 books in a lending library, several magazines but virtually no non-fiction or reference books. For these, patrons were referred to the recently opened library at Susquehanna University.
The Community Center continued to harbor the reading lounge until 1942, when federal assistance ceased and the First National Bank decided to sell the house. The Community Center, including its reading lounge, then moved to the first floor of the Masonic Lodge at 112 South Market Street (now Sharon Lutheran Churches north side parking lot). The Masons donated this space, asking only that heat be paid for by the Center’s spon sors. Here the library continued for 25 years, essentially as a large reading lounge in the Community Center. Its director for most of these years was Mrs. Henry Mowles.
By the 1960s the limits of the library were reached. It had over 3000 volumes in its collection but the number of hours these were available to the public diminished until they were ten a week, two hours a day for five days. In 1967 the future of the Selinsgrove Community Center was threatened. The Masonic Lodge wanted to use its first floor for its re� cently displaced auxiliary groups. The board of the Community Center was informed that it would have to vacate the premises by September of 1967. The Town Council was charged to find new space and cast its eye on the recently abandoned Pine Street School which it had purchased from the School District for $1.00 in 1965. To build a Community Center and Borough offices in that snace would cost over $200,000. according to Town Manager Jim App. This would increase the tax burden of local residents, requiring a referendum on the matter. It was passed by a slim margin and the project moved forward. The building was built on the foundation of the Pine Street school and was planned to provide space for community activities, Borough offices and a Library. Temporarily, the Library moved to the “stage room” in the Masonic Lodge, a dark and small space entered from a dimly-lit walk-way on the south side.