by Mr. E.V. Bingham (1964)
What is now the Ridgetown Public Library was established in a Mechanics Institute, which started in England in the 19th century. It held night classes with book circulation to bring education to the working people. The first one was in St. John's Newfoundland in 1823: the one in Ridgetown was established in 1879. The Institutes in Ontario were converted into public libraries by legislation in 1895.
The first minutes are those of the director's meeting of May 1894, of which Dr. S.N. Young, president, S. Pringle was secretary. Other directors were: G. Little, High School Principal; Lawyer W. Mills; W.B. Graham; J. Davidson; H.N. Smith; H. Johnson; H.N. Gillies; elected annually.
At the annual meeting of 1895, Miss Sadie Drake was engaged for $800.00 a year as Librarian. The library was kept open 5 nights and 2 afternoons weekly. She resigned in Nov. 1898. Mr. S.S. Wilson was hired till Feb. 1900, when he quit and was succeeded by Mrs. P. White at $60.00 a year and stayed until Nov. 1915. Miss Evelyn Backus was the next librarian, followed by Mrs. George Wedge who resigned in 1917, succeeded by Miss Anna Prossor, who had the record of 32 years, to her credit, when she quit in 1948. Then Mrs. Gordon S. Craig continued till her death in 1958. Mrs. Murray and Mrs. Giffiths were librarians for a couple of years, till Mrs. Fred Cudney, the present librarian was appointed Sept. 1961, with Mrs. Gruden assistant.
In 1896 the Board with the Provincial library inspector, Dr. May, asked the council to make it a free library, but the request was not granted. So the library is financed by members fees of $1.00 annually and grants from the town, township and government, of which helped, along with the Board conducting lectures, dances, entertainment, also some donations from I.O.D.E and clubs. Membership averaging 175 and book circulation in the 3 to 4 thousand annual range.
Fiction books help a great deal among the younger readers. A Mr. F. Campbell was a voracious reader and purchased books for himself, then after reading them, he sold them to the library at greatly reduced prices -- 135 books for $35.00. About 1926 library finances began to improve through the influence of W.E. Galbraith, who was a member of both the town and township councils, succeeded in getting grants for the library.
In 1929, due to a violet storm which toppled the chimney on the Municipal Hall crashing through the roof, ceiling also completely damaging the stairway. So the library was closed during March and April pending repairs. Its operation continued on a uniform record of receipts, expenditures and patronage until 1948. From the library branch of the Department of Education, also under the Library Act, it was within the power of the local council to pass the necessary by-law for a free Library. Mr. Angus Mowat, provincial director of the library service, also Mrs. Rochester, head of Kent County Corporative also was present at this time with the town council.
When the extensive repairs to the Municipal building were undertaken; and largely due to the interest of that year's property chairman, Mr. Henry Buller that the library room was converted to a bright attractive condition in which it is today. As soon as the public heard the library was free, the borrowers jumped from formerly 175 to about 1200 in the first year, and is continually increasing due to the efforts of the Board to instil the reading habit in the minds of young people. In this effort it is fitting to recognize the assistance given by the chief librarian and staff of the Chatham Public Library.
The township makes an annual grant on condition the High School pupils from townships being allowed to use the library. The Mayor, 8 Boards of Directors appointed by the Town Council are 3 of the town council. Their names are: G.E. Haslam; Mrs. E.V. Bingham; Eberle Goldhawk; Dr. Edwards; J.J. Neilson; Mrs. Wm Merrifield; Mrs. Wm Goldhawk and Mrs. Eldon Spence.
It is financed by a per capital grant from the town, also from the department of education amounting to about 60% of the town's portion.
At beginning books averaged about $1.50 each, now in 1963, costs on an average of $5.00 each. Town gets back about one third of its grant in rent from the room. The Board's operating expenses run nearly $5.00 per borrower per year, but if the borrower had to pay for the books, it would cost him around $200.00. Of the present board, Dr. Edwards has served since 1933, J.J. Neilson since 1935, Mrs. Bingham since 1948, Mrs. Wm. Merrifield about the same time. Mr. E.V. Bingham ahs been treasurer since 1948 and has been connected with the library since 1918.
Transcribed from the records of Mrs. Geo. S. Brien, Rural Ridgetown Women's Institute.