Library celebrates 50 years; celebration set for Saturday

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By Chris Mura

The Nelson County Public Library will host a fireworks show at 6 p.m. June 10 at the Nelson County Fairgrounds to celebrate its 50th anniversary. During those 50 years, the library has weathered three moves, the creation of two new branches and the Bookmobile, and a long-term book theft that cost the system $100,000.

The library was private from its inception in 1946 to the beginning of its county funding in 1968. After a majority of voters chose to add a property tax to fund the library, it was absorbed into the state system and became the Nelson County Public Library.

Once it became part of the system, the library moved from its old home on the second floor of what is now the Sutherland Building to the old Bardstown Post Office, where it would stay for more than 35 years while establishing new branches in New Haven and Bloomfield. A 1967 Kentucky Standard article reported on 22 New Haven children who had to commute to the Elizabethtown Community College to access a library before a branch was built in their area.

The site was also where books were checked out of the library and never returned, which persisted for 17 years, until approximately 5,000 books had disappeared off the shelves. The most frequently stolen books were those on cooking, crafting, and the occult, as well as magazines such as Seventeen and Gentleman’s Quarterly, which were taken so often the library eventually stopped subscribing.

“If people would just return them, we’ll take them back with no questions asked,” pleaded Nelson County librarian Celia Keeling in 1987. The library later upgraded its security and moved librarians’ desks to spots where they could more easily keep an eye on readers. Extra measures such as cameras and sign-in sheets were also added.

When Flaget Memorial Hospital outgrew its building, so did the library. It purchased the old hospital building in 2005 and began a $1.3 million renovation project that would give Bardstown the main branch of the NCPS it knows today. The new building has a towering stained-glass window that commemorated Bardstown history, a technology center, a children’s library, and more stacks than ever.

It also includes copies of major periodicals, which, if not stolen, can be accessed at the local library for much less than a home subscription. It’s just one of many things the current library director Sharon Shanks says people don’t realize they can do at the library, like study nonfiction guides and other academic texts.

“It’s important for people to realize that exploration can be very rewarding at your library. We get a lot of requests from people who are interested in learning about a recently diagnosed condition,” she said. “With budgets being cut on the state level, we also provide space and resources for people who are searching for a job. These are very important, life-sustaining activities that go on every day.”

The fireworks show, which begins at dark and will include local vendors and family-friendly events, including bounce houses and face painting, seeks to celebrate the years of community the library system has fostered.

“We want to continue to provide space for people to do what they need to do,” said Shanks. “Our vision when we started was to make it the community’s living room, to make it the gathering place where you can get in a chair, feel comfortable, and stay as long as you want.”