A Brief History of the C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library District
Library service began for Mt. Vernon, Illinois when women started a Shakespeare Club in 1893 to "improve their members and establish a circulating library". In 1894, the club took rooms on the south side of the square in what became the second floor of the downtown Mammoth Department Store. The circulating library opened its doors on January 9, 1895.
In 1899, when the city was considering establishing a free public library the club offered "our books, our bookcases and the use of our club room as a library, free of rent, provided we may select the majority of the directors of the Public Library". On August 3, 1899, the Mt. Vernon Public Library was appropriated $700 and opened on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Local businessmen worked to secure a donation from Andrew Carnegie and the city accepted $12,500.00 from Mr. Carnegie. On April 8, 1903, the city resolved to "furnish a suitable site and grounds upon which to erect said building, and to appropriate, levy, and raise, by direct taxation or otherwise," 10% of the donation annually to support the library. Property was optioned in Green's subdivision of block twelve (101 South 7th Street) for $7,000.00. The city council minutes of August 3, 1905 reported the building (at a total cost of $15,562.00) was now ready for occupancy. The library has continued to operate from these premises to this day.
Over the years, numerous remodeling projects were tackled. In 1926 a new heating plant was installed (originally coal fired, later gas). In 1940 the lighting system was upgraded on the second floor. Several projects were tackled in 1962 when a concrete floor was installed in the basement and the serials department moved downstairs. At the same time, the third floor (auditorium) was remodeled to house the children's department. The basement remodeling finished in 1968 with the completion of a room for local history and genealogy research. An additional electrical panel was installed to handle the new areas.
During the 1970's it became clear that more space was needed in the library along with remodeling for accessibility. A study determined the need for two wings, elevator and a parking lot.
In 1978, the library established a branch at the Rolland W. Lewis Community Building located in the city park. Mr. & Mrs. Clarence E. Brehm gave the library board a challenge when they pledged $300,000 for the project. The library was required to raise the matching funds by December 1980. Mr. Brehm died on July 9, 1980, the library board matched the funds on October 31st and the city council renamed the Mt. Vernon library the C.E. Brehm Memorial Library on November 3, 1980.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on May 16, 1981 and the library opened a temporary annex on the west side of the downtown square that summer. After completion of most of the construction of the north and south wings, the downtown annex and the park branch were closed in July 1982.
The children's department did not receive attention until 1987 when it was temporarily relocated to the first floor meeting room for several months while a new support beam, suspended ceiling and carpeting were installed in the third floor.
In 1989, voters of the three townships approved a referendum to create the C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library District.
The library had joined Cumberland Trail Library System's automated database (LS/2) in the 1980's and became fully automated with it in 1991. In 1993, the library, now a part of Shawnee Library System, merged and migrated to the Dynix system requiring the installation of new computer cabling for staff and public access terminals. The increase in users led to the expansion of the parking lot (9 spaces plus a second handicapped space) in 1994.
During 1995, the library board studied the physical condition of the building and consulted with the architect for recommendations. In 1996, window replacement was completed on the third and first floors, third floor emergency exit door was replaced and fire escape repainted, second floor entrance changed to emergency exit only, and a new circulation desk to handle all transactions was installed on the first floor. In 1997, the library received an Illinois State Library LSTA Construction Grant to upgrade electrical wiring and install central A/C in the Carnegie portion of the library. The original stained glass windows were restored and new ceilings and light fixtures were installed.
In August 1999, the library celebrated 100 years of service to the Mt. Vernon community. Honored guests included Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Illinois State Library Director Jean Wilkins. Local organizations provided entertainment and refreshments during the Friday afternoon open house.
In April 2003, the voters of the twelve previously unserved townships in Jefferson County approved the April 1, 2003 annexation to expand the library district. As a result the library now serves 39,013 population in 15 townships.