NYM library celebrates 90th anniversary

The New York Mills Public Library’s services includes a large assortment of books and other offerings of educational and entertainment value. The Viking Library Bookmobile also offers services around the region.

Tucker Henderson


Ninety years ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, a few enterprising women decided to take on the task of establishing a public library in New York Mills.

The three-year-old NY Mills Women’s Club did just that in 1933 and started a little library in the old fire hall, which is located in the same space the new hall now occupies. This collection was primarily made up of books donated by club members and those interested in the project at the time.

Fundraising was an important part of early operation and maintenance of the library. The Women’s Club held an annual event, the “Silver Tea,” to help raise monetary donations, namely those struck from silver. Tea or coffee was served along with homemade cookies provided by the club members.

In the early days, the library was open just two hours a week and club members would take turns checking out books once a week. The library took a step up in 1937 when the NY Mills village council voted to build a new city hall with the help of state and federal funding, as well as WPA labor. Two large rooms in the new village hall were set aside for the library and its growing collection, which was moved into the new building in 1940.

The NY Mills Public Library was previously housed in the second floor of City Hall and grew too crowded in the 47 years that it spent there.

Not long before the library moved to its new home, a junior women’s club was organized out of the younger members of the Women’s Club. The Candlelight Study Club met for the first time on April 26, 1939 in hopes of continuing the work that their mother’s generation started. Both clubs worked jointly on many community projects, including the staffing and operation of the library.

The Women’s Club persisted in bolstering the public library over the years, constantly at work in increasing the collection and scope of its offerings. It wasn’t until 1958 when the Candlelight Study Club took full charge of the library.

An early member of the Candlelight Study Club was June Parta, who was a trained school librarian with a library degree. She oversaw the operation of the library until 1982 and also took part in the establishment of the Viking Library System in 1976, of which the NY Mills Library is a member. 

The Viking Library System remains a dedicated regional system to this day and encompasses six counties and 11 member libraries. It supplies library materials to each member library and also provides bookmobile service to rural communities lacking their own library. 

When NY Mills joined the system in 1976, the library’s collection expanded to offerings that could be requested from fellow member libraries.

The late Mike Parta remembered his mother’s contributions to the library in his “Mapping the town” column in the New York Mills Herald dated Feb. 25, 1988.

“I grew up with library books heaped on chairs, tables, etc. around our house as my mother, June Parta, processed the books at home for the public library. The task was a never ending one, because as one group of books was cataloged properly and moved out to the library shelves, another shipment of books would arrive. And mother would start all over with the task of getting them ready for the library. She believed that our hope for our tomorrows in this country is through education and the library is the resource center for all education activity.”

Mike Parta in his “Mapping the town” column in the New York Mills Herald dated Feb. 25, 1988

Staffing was still on a volunteer basis well into the 1980s, when Margie Hart became the first paid librarian in January of 1985. Previously, Green Thumb workers Armia Paavola, Signe Smith and Siiri Majava had been the main library personnel during the week and helped patrons with their library needs.

The library was a popular place to find entertainment of all sorts, as well as information and educational resources. Circulation of items had increased 400 percent between 1979 and 1985. With the gaining popularity and expansion of services, the library was in desperate need for a new home with more space. Another motivating factor kicked off the building campaign: funding from the Viking Library System would end unless the library became accessible to the handicapped, which at that time was not feasible in its location.

Contributed photo
The New York Mills Library was once housed in the upstairs of city hall, before it grew too large and was moved to a bigger location.

With a building campaign in full force, the newly-formed Friends of the Library group committed to raising $75,000 of the $100,000 cost to construct a  new facility. The group would later learn the final cost was almost double the original amount and additional funding would be needed. The City of NY Mills would provide $25,000, while a grant from the Minnesota State Department of Library Development and Services would provide a construction grant of $50,000. By February of 1988, around $110,000 had been raised, over half of the total cost of the library.

Numerous buildings and vacant lots were considered for the new library, including the former Dale’s Carpet and former Ford Showcase properties. It was ultimately decided that the former Gambles building, which was torn down for the project, as well as two parcels on Main Street were the best choice for the erection of a new library. Ervin and Lila Keskinen and Harold and Nancy Karvonen donated their vacant lots for the future location of the library.

The Fargo firm, Minko Construction, was awarded the base construction bid of $139,995 in 1987 and the work began on the community’s dream for a new library facility. The state’s grant imposed a construction deadline of August of 1988, so crews got right to work laying the foundation in the fall of 1987.

Framework went up quickly as walls and rafters were hoisted into place and construction chugged along as community members watched with hope. The State’s deadline was easily met and construction was finished in December of 1987.

“There’s a new bright spot on the Main Street of New York Mills—the newly constructed public library,” read the Fergus Falls Daily Journal on Dec. 1, 1987. “Workers are putting the finishing touches on the new pine building, cleaning up building materials and moving in shelves for the library, which is slated to open in January.”

The Lutheran Brotherhood Branch #8190 volunteered by moving oak shelving purchased from the Fergus Falls Public Library into the new building. The used shelving saved the library over $8,000, which was a necessary expenditure cut as library funds were nearly depleted with the construction costs. About 60 volunteers showed up on a chilly 20 degree below morning to heave boxes of books down the city hall stairs into the back of a pickup truck. Within two hours, the transfer had been completed and books were ready for shelving. The books were shelved in their new home almost as quickly as they had been taken out of the old library.

The New York Mills Library welcomed their first 67 patrons into the new building on January 19, 1988. Because of the large turnout, the library kept its doors open two hours longer than originally scheduled.

“Everybody’s delighted,” said Margie Hart, librarian at the time. “It was so nice. It was such a positive place to be yesterday.”

A library open house was held February 28 and hundreds of locals turned out to show their support and see what the community had built. William Asp, the Director of the Office of Library Development and Services for Minnesota was present and spoke favorably of the new library and the community support behind it. A letter from Senator Davie Durenberger was read aloud as well as speeches from Mistress of Ceremonies Gunda Moeller and NY Mills Mayor Dean Simpson.

“Not only is this a reality today, but it is great to look at this building and realize that there are no bonds on it,” said Simpson of the community’s generosity. “There is no debt, it’s paid for!”

Since that time, the library has been the host of many children’s reading programs, technological offerings, and book sales over the years. A children’s story hour was a popular staple of NY Mills summers for many years. From magic shows to history presentations, the library has kept its place as a necessity in the lives of NY Mills residents. Presentations on local history, wildlife, Bingo-for-Books, Trivia Night, and bus trips are all favorite offerings of the NY Mills library. Other special events continue to be held periodically.

A 90th Anniversary Tea will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 6 at the NY Mills Library. The tea party calls back to the annual Silver Tea events held as early fundraisers for the library. 

Reservations for the 90th Anniversary Tea must be made at the library or by calling 385-2436 before April 25. A $20 fee will cover the menu of assorted finger sandwiches, scones, desserts, lemonade, and a choice of tea. As it is an anniversary party, it is asked that participants dress up for the occasion. This event is sponsored by the Friends of the Library, which still works to improve the library’s offerings throughout the year.

Librarians Virginia “Ginger” Stemme and current Library Director, Julie Adams have continued the efforts made by Margie Hart, June Parta, Siiri Majava, Melva Rud, Signe Smith, Armia Paavola and countless other volunteers over the past 90 years.

Today, the library has a total circulation of over 36,500 items and a climbing attendance rate. Julie Adams, present Director of the Library, noted that she is in awe of the forward thinking of past generations.

“I often marvel at the foresight the ladies of the Women’s Club had for our community—to volunteer their time, talent, and treasures to start a library is simply amazing. And that our community has supported the library all these years, is amazing. Not many towns our size say the same, so New York Mills should be very proud of this.”

Julie Adams, Director of the New York Mills Public Library

Mike Parta said it best in his 1988 column praising the endless efforts of local women to bolster the library over the decades and their endless optimism for the future.

“The women who gathered together years ago to first organize a public library would have never guessed the seed they were planting for generations to come.”