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The Saline County Library, owned and operated by the county, is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in central Arkansas. There are two branches: the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton (Saline County) and the Mabel Boswell Memorial Library in Bryant (Saline County). The Saline County Library seeks to “serve the citizens of Saline County by providing materials, technology, and programs that educate, connect, and entertain.” The library is governed by the Saline County Library Board, whose members are appointed by the county judge. The library board consists of five members and one who serves as liaison between the board and the quorum court. The library is funded primarily by county-wide sales taxes and millage.
The Benton Junior Fortnightly Club was a women’s group organized on February 6, 1930, with eleven members—sixteen by the end of its first year. The first Benton Public Library was a direct outgrowth of efforts made by club members to establish a library in Benton. Beginning in March 1931, members of the Fortnightly Club began a letter-writing campaign, contacting more than twenty local organizations asking for donations. Some 600 books were donated by local families, and another 300 books came from club members. The Fortnightly Club secured two rooms in the Walton Building in downtown Benton with free use of electricity granted by the city and fuel bills to be paid from the club treasury and from book rentals. The library rooms were renovated and furnished by club members, who also took turns serving as librarian.
The Benton Public Library advertised weekly in the Benton Courier and was open twice a week at first. The library then began selling memberships, which allowed members to check out materials with a library card. All proceeds raised from events, book rentals, and memberships were used to buy new books and for upkeep on the building. In December 1934, the Benton Public Library became a project of the Public Works Administration (PWA), allowing it to stay open six days a week.
Fortnightly Club members retained an active interest in the library, serving as an advisory board. On November 14, 1935, the Fortnightly Club turned control of the library over to the City of Benton. On December 30, 1935, the first Benton Public Library was opened on the second floor of the Walton building as a municipal project sponsored by the Benton City Council.
On April 3, 1936, the Benton Public Library relocated to a building next to Benton’s city hall on South Street, having outgrown its previous quarters. By this time, the library boasted 1,100 volumes, managed by a librarian and with a “board of control” appointed by the city council. In 1946, Dr. Dewell Gann Jr. gave his late father’s former medical office (which later became the Gann Museum) to the City of Benton to house the growing library, and on March 21, 1948, the Gann Memorial Library was officially dedicated with a formal ceremony.
The idea of developing a county library was first discussed at a meeting held at the Saline County Courthouse on August 18, 1960, but a ballot issue to that effect did not pass in the November election. In 1964, the old Palace Theatre building was deeded to the nonprofit Saline County Public Library Association, which undertook remodeling the building to be used as the new library. The newly named Saline County Library was dedicated on October 15, 1967, with the Gann building being used to safeguard the library’s rare books and extensive reference collection. A branch in Bryant opened on donated land on April 24, 1969.
On April 6, 1986, the David O. Demuth Arkansas Room at the Benton branch was dedicated. In October 1987, the Dean Boswell Arkansas Heritage Room was dedicated at the Bryant branch. A fire destroyed much of the Benton branch on January 29, 1988, causing it to close until that April for repairs.
On August 24, 1998, the citizens of Saline County approved a small millage increase and a countywide sale tax, which was extended in August 2000 to provide funds needed for further expansion of the library’s two branches. On February 21, 2001, construction began on the 10,000-square-foot Mabel Boswell Memorial Library in Bryant. It was dedicated on February 10, 2002. Construction on the 32,000-square-foot Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton began on October 30, 2001. It was dedicated on August 10, 2003. The Bob Herzfeld branch houses all the library’s main offices and its extensive collection of reference materials.
The Mabel Boswell Memorial Library temporarily closed for renovations in the summer of 2018 and held its grand-reopening on November 8.
For additional information:
“Junior Fortnightly.” Benton Courier—Centennial Number, March 25, 1937, p. 71.
Saline County Library. http://www.salinecountylibrary.org/ (accessed January 30, 2019).
Cody Lynn Berry
Last Updated 1/30/2019
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