|Volume 59 Number 1
History of the Germantown Community Library
Andy Pouncey, Assistant City Administrator
In the 1930s and 1940s, the residents of Germantown, Tennessee received library services from a bookmobile operated by the Memphis and Shelby County Library Board. The mobile library parked in the shade of Germantown Road between Hot Tamale Road (Dogwood Road) and the railroad tracks.
Figure 1. The bookmobile is shown here along Germantown Road across from The Depot in the 30s.
In the summer, the books were often displayed and checked out from a table beneath the trees. In this town of around 500 citizens, kids arrived by bike and by foot to find adventures for a new week.
The library books fit into the back of a panel truck. When the rear doors opened, the shelving system slid to the rear and out the vehicle. Corner braces dropped to the ground serving to hold this week’s offerings. There were two aisles -- one on each side of the vehicle -- and each row consisted of three shelves each.
The Memphis and Shelby County Library Board discontinued bookmobile visits to outlying communities in 1953.
Figure 2. Germantown Road south of Hot Tamale (Dogwood Road), 1930s – 1940s
The Germantown Woman’s Club, meeting in January 1954, laid plans for a library to serve the 600 citizens of the town, as well as residents of the surrounding rural area. The club sponsored fundraisers including a book review and tea at town hall. The library opened that summer in the old St. George’s Episcopal Chapel, then located on a narrow east-west street south of Germantown Presbyterian Church (see fig. 3).
By October, the Germantown Library Association, Inc., was established by charter, signed by 25 members of the Woman’s Club. The Association purchased the chapel in August 1955 for $8,000 with the Woman’s Club taking responsibility for the payments. The collection numbered nearly 3,500 books.
The Chapel was relocated in the 80s and is currently used by St. George’s Independent School on their property at 8250 Poplar Avenue.
Figure 3. Library at St. George’s Episcopal Chapel, 1954
In 1965 the Shelby County government advised Germantown officials that it was prepared to spend $125,000 to construct a library in Germantown if the City provided the site.
A year later in 1966, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (the ‘Board’) approved a motion to authorize the Mayor to accept an offer from the Germantown Civic Club to sell to the City of Germantown a plot of land on the Joe Pickering Memorial building grounds on Poplar Pike. This site had a frontage of 165 ft. and a depth of 300 ft., with a price tag of $9,000. Attached to the purchase was the note that the Civic Club would convey to the City an additional tract of land with approximately 165 ft. of frontage and 300 ft. deep, adjacent to the Library property, at no cost for the purpose of building a Community Center.
City leaders took the Germantown Civic Club up on its offer to sell frontage on Poplar Pike for a library and community center for $9,000. The first building designed expressly for library services was constructed in 1968 and opened with 13,000 books (see fig. 4). The building later served as Morgan Woods Theatre, hosting a theatre program for young people, and today serves as the Germantown Regional History and Genealogy Center.
Figure 4. Library at 7771 Poplar Pike, 1968
In 1970 the town’s population exceeded 3,700. By 1980 it had exploded to more than 20,000, and so did the demand for municipal services, including a bigger and better library.
In 1978 the Board granted approval to commit to provide a building site for a new library in the Municipal Center Complex bordered by Farmington, Exeter, Germantown and Neshoba Roads. Germantown would pay Shelby County the approximate book value for the old library building and property, to be used by the City in connection with the Pickering Community Center on Poplar Pike.
The following year, the Board reviewed the proposed land being provided by Shelby County for a library and the proposed acquisition of land adjoining the Municipal Center Park to replace the approximate 1.3 acres to be used by the library. A motion was approved for the Board to commit to Shelby County the proposed site for construction of the library, subject to first receiving approval from the Heritage Conservation & Recreational Service (HCRS) for a dollar for dollar exchange for property on Watkins Lane, or other property adjoining another park. The County would then begin architectural work, but no construction could begin until the aforementioned approval is received.
In 1981, the Board was advised that the proposed Germantown Branch Library, to be built by Shelby County on the site provided by the city, would be approximately 10,000 sq. ft. in size. The size needed for the proposed population of 40,000 would be 24,000 sq. ft. in area. The County’s budgeted amount remained at $590,000, and if Germantown wanted a larger building, an additional $150,000 to $200,000 would need to be appropriated by the City. Mr. Robert Croneberger, with Shelby County government, advised the Board that $590,000 was all the county was going to appropriate that year or the next. The Board agreed that, as the proposed library was a county project and would serve not only the City of Germantown, but also the area in the county around us, no additional funds would be appropriated.
In 1992, the Germantown Branch Library was the second busiest library in the Memphis/Shelby County system. Upon the construction of the City’s current library, this building was renovated and now serves the City as the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Figure 5. Library at 1920 S. Germantown Road, 1982
In the spring of 1993, the Board of Mayor and Alderman put a new library on its list of priorities. In 1994, Community First Bank of Germantown sold approximately three acres of land for $750,000, north and west of their building for a new library. The firm, Williamson, Haizlip & Pounders, was contracted as the architectural firm to design the library. Under a joint funding agreement both the City and Shelby County government shared in this project. The City handled the design and the construction was split 80% County and 20% City of Germantown.
In 1995, Webb Building Corporation was awarded the contract to construct the new 31,000 square foot Germantown Community Library on the corner of Farmington and Exeter. The cost of the contract was $4,525,372. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on August 15, 1995.
Figure 6. Library at 1925 Exeter Road,1995
The Library Commission was established that same year and served in an advisory capacity to the Board on issues dealing with the new library. The Commission gave a mid-year report (1996) and recommendation. The purpose of the Library Commission was reflected in the following areas:
- To serve in an advisory role to the Board regarding citizen interests and needs and the city’s role of indirect and direct support of the library;
- To serve as a catalyst for community support for the library;
- To recruit volunteers for service to the library; and
- To organize special events, such as the opening gala event and other celebratory events, in recognition of the library’s opening.
The Memphis Shelby County Public Library and Information Center continued to operate the Germantown Community Library. Through direct grants and fundraising, the City contributed more than $1 million to improve and enhance the collection, as well as provide maintenance for the facility. As Shelby County government took action in 2004 to withdraw funding of suburban library operations, the City of Germantown on July 12, 2004, accepted responsibility for financing and managing its library.
Currently, the Germantown Community Library is fully owned and operated by the City of Germantown. The City subcontracts management to Library Systems and Services, Inc. (LSSI). The LSSI staff is guided by policies developed by the Germantown Library Board, composed of seven citizens appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The Friends of the Library conducts fundraising, recruits volunteers, operates The Friends Book Store and offers general support to the library.
The Germantown Community Library also joins the Sam T. Wilson Public Library in Arlington, the Millington Public Library, and the Lucius E. & Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library in Collierville as a member of The Wolf River Library Consortium, creating additional resources through the sharing of books.
From three shelves of books in the rear of a 30s panel truck and 500 citizens, to 98,838 titles in the main library and 14,082 titles in the Regional History and Genealogy Center and a population of 42,000, the Germantown Community Library anticipates continued growth in the future.
City of Germantown (Tennessee) Board of Mayor and Aldermen Minutes, 1950 –2000, Germantown.
Pouncey, G. Andrew, Chronological Compilation of Highlights by Department, Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen Minutes 1950 – 2000, Germantown.
Pouncey, G. Andrew, Personal Files/Photographs - History of Germantown, Germantown Regional History and Genealogy Center, Germantown.