A Place for all Citizens

A photo of an exhibit panel featuring the old Library Building.

A photo of an exhibit panel featuring the old Library Building.

What a place [a library] would be to spend a portion of Sunday, when time hangs so heavily on most men’s hands. It would save many a one from going out and raising Hades.

—C.S. Keller, Lethbridge News, January 14, 1889

Even in the city’s infancy as a coal mining town, Lethbridge citizens wanted a library—a place where they could go to occupy their free time and better themselves.

In 1890 Charles A. Magrath (former Lethbridge mayor) donated a collection of books that became the nucleus of the Alberta Railway and Coal Company’s Reading Room and Library Society. Like other private libraries across the country, it was meant as a sort of self-help institute for working men, though anyone could take out a membership. By 1905 the reading room held roughly 1,500 books and several foreign language newspapers, plus a billiard room and gym.

However, residents continued to call for a public library. City council was urged to apply to Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy Scottish-American businessman who gave generous grants to build libraries across North America. Carnegie offered $25,000 but local workers objected because of Carnegie’s record of poor labour practices. Despite the controversy, ratepayers approved a bylaw in 1911 to accept a grant and establish the Lethbridge Public Library—provided that it not bear Carnegie’s name. After delays caused by an economic recession and the First World War, the library opened in 1919.

Connecting Community: 100 Years of the Lethbridge Public Library is an exhibit currently showing at the Galt Museum & Archives until June 2. Come learn more about the history of the public library system in Lethbridge exploring artifacts, photographs, and stories.