Mr. Smith and I previously lived in Pennsylvania, so we were all too familiar with the state’s charmingly frustrating system of obtaining a driver’s license and license plates when you come from out of state. Based on our prior experience, we went online to check out the requirements and on a sunny Saturday morning we showed up at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation – Drivers License Center. As you walk in, you are met by their own personal gate keeper. This person asks what you are there for and checks to see if you have brought the correct documentation. Why does it seem like they take a bit of pleasure in informing you that what you have brought just isn’t sufficient and sending you on your way for additional credentials?
On our second visit that same day we were lucky enough to pass go and receive a number and await our turn. Pennsylvania requires proof of who you are with a birth certificate or passport and a social security card. After proving that you are who you say you are, you must prove residency with a lease or mortgage and a utility bill in your name. As we have only one utility bill and it is Mr. Smith’s name, I had to wait until he had obtained his Pennsylvania license. He was then allowed to sign an affidavit that I did live with him at that address! You have to go to a separate tag and title business to get your license plates, but that is a whole other story.
Happily, our persistence paid off and I was finally given a Pennsylvania drivers license. Obtaining this allowed me to get my coveted reward, my new library card! Our new digs are less than two blocks from The Osterhout Free Library which was established in 1889 in a vacated Presbyterian church. Upon his death, Isaac Smith Osterhout, a prominent citizen of Wilkes Barre, provided comfortably for his wife, yet left the bulk of his sizeable estate to fund a public library in downtown Wilkes Barre. There were no empty lots on which to build, so when the church on South Franklin Street became available, the Directors purchased it. They consulted with Melvil Dewey (famous for the Dewey Decimal system) who visited Wilkes Barre in 1886 and was instrumental in planning the library. In addition to other advice, it was Dewey who recommended Hannah Packard James be hired as Librarian. Previously, she had been the head librarian at the library in Newton, Massachusetts for 17 years.
And it’s Ms. James that I have to thank for the fact that I can check books out of the library as she was adamant that the library freely circulate books to the public! The Directors had intended to restrict use of the library materials to the building. Thankfully, Ms. James was forward thinking. On January 28, 1889, the library had its opening ceremony at the new First Presbyterian Church next door. There was music, prayer, opening remarks and then the guest of honor: Professor Melvil Dewey. Mr. Dewey’s theme was “The Public Library – The People’s University.”
I have long loved libraries and learning more about the history of my current library has endeared it to me. The Information Desk provided me with a fascinating booklet of their history including facts like – In August of 1937 a man spent eight days in jail for not returning eight Osterhout library books. When the books were returned, he was released. I’m happy to state I have never done any jail time for overdue library books!
But my favorite story is that to mark the Library’s upcoming 50thanniversary, a woman who wished to remain anonymous gifted the library with a book truck in 1938. The new Dodge truck chassis was custom built to hold about 1,000 books! And you know how I love a bookmobile…
C’est la vie.