Perham library celebrates 90 years

The Perham Area Public Library is celebrating its 90th birthday this year, and with it "90 years of volunteers," said librarian Susan Heusser-Ladwig.

Kim Embretson from West Central Initiative presented birthday balloons to librarian Susan Heusser-Ladwig and Pat Holper, president of the Friends of the Library, at the library's open house on Monday. The library raised $12,000 for its endowment fund through West Central Initiative last year. Connie Vandermay/FOCUS

The Perham Area Public Library is celebrating its 90th birthday this year, and with it "90 years of volunteers," said librarian Susan Heusser-Ladwig.

In an interview last week, Heusser-Ladwig shared stories from the library's history as recorded in various scrapbooks. Newspaper clippings, photos and library board minutes have been compiled over the years by many volunteers, including former librarian Catherine Drahmann.

For the library's first 50 years, everything was done voluntarily - from administrative duties to fundraising events to day-to-day operations.

It wasn't until the 1950s that the city offered financial support to the library. And it was another 20 years after that before the city hired its first librarian, Drahmann.

Heusser-Ladwig and Drahmann are the only two paid librarians the library has ever had. In 1978, Drahmann began getting paid to do the things she had been volunteering to do for many years before. She retired in 1994, handing the reins over to Heusser-Ladwig.


Volunteers today spend much of their time raising money for the library. The library is two-thirds funded through the city, with remaining funds coming from Otter Tail County, local townships, businesses and individuals.

Last year, the library raised $12,000 from individuals for its endowment fund, earning the challenge prize from West Central Initiative of an additional $5,000.

Patrons who donate to the endowment program provide a consistent source of income. Donations are invested, with interest available for use by the library year after year.

There is also a nonprofit group called Friends of the Library which helps offer author visits, summer reading programs and writer's workshops.

-A little history-

The library opened in 1922 when the Women's Club purchased $100 worth of books with its own funds. The books were stored in a locked shelf in City Hall and opened for lending two hours once a week.

The library continued to operate out of City Hall until 1929, when an opportunity arose to move to a new location. The American Legion had purchased the Episcopal Church (the current History Museum of East Otter Tail County) and offered to share the space with the library. In May of 1929, the library moved into this stone building, which was built in 1887 by Scottish stonemason Nathaniel McConachie.

With this new space, the library began to expand its collection, funded entirely on donations from individuals and businesses. A decade later, in 1939, the American Legion sold the building to the city for $150 so the library would be eligible for grants. One such grant, as well as a donation from Dr. Frank Brabec, paid for an expansion in 1940.


The library moved to its current location in 1997, when the city of Perham, along with six neighboring townships, funded the construction of a new facility. The new space was three times larger and located next to the old facility. With an additional donation from Eleanor Arvig, the exterior stone work was completed, staying true to the look of the old library.

-Today's library-

From its beginning 90 years ago, when it was open for two hours a week and offered a selection of 50 books, the library of today has grown tremendously. Currently open 46 hours over six days a week, with more than 35,000 items to offer, the library continues to be a source of information for the community.

An estimated 69,500 people walked through the door of the library last year, borrowing an estimated 66,000 items.

The library offers books, magazines, DVDs, CDs and more. The most circulated items in the library continue to be books. Perham patrons enjoy mystery and thrillers as well as political theory books, Heusser-Ladwig said,

The library also owns two Kindle eReaders for patrons to borrow, and offers the use of nine public computers with two more coming by summer. Printers, fax machines and copiers are available for a small charge.

The 2012 summer reading program will go through June and July. The library will offer prizes to encourage kids to read. Weekly book clubs for two different age groups will be offered to children again this summer, as well.

-A timeline of the library's storied past (taken from historical scrapbooks)-


1934 - Library began investing in books, which cost as much as $2 each.

1934 - Library board expressed concern about lending books to teachers since, "they never stay in the community for any length of time."

1936 - When Mrs. G.E. Griffen was reelected president of the library board, the bank account showed a balance of $11.09.

1939 - Circulation 2,800.

1939 - Carl Carmer's book, "Stars Fell on Alabama," an autobiography about racial relations in Alabama, was deemed unfit reading for high school students.

1953 - Circulation 4,348.

1971 - Circulation 7,000.

1976 - An outside book return was installed so patrons could return books during off hours.


1978 - It took an estimated 1,000 volunteer hours to run a library for a year.

1978 - Perham Library became part of the Viking Library system, expanding borrowing options with participating libraries in the area by offering interlibrary loaning rights to patrons.

1981 - The first reading program began. Kids who read 15 or more books earned a paperback book of their own.

1982 - Some previously patched stonework on an outer wall crumbled off of the library, leaving a large hole that needed to be repaired.

1984 - Library paid $15 to $20 for a book.

1984 - Romances and best sellers were the most popular items for adults.

1987 - Circulation 46,000.

1993 - According to newspaper articles, Drahmann reported bats invading the library throughout the early 1990's. At one point she brought a book on how to get rid of bats to the city council and suggested they read it. Various unsuccessful techniques to stop the bats from entering were tried, including scattering moth balls in the basement. The moth balls did not help the bat problem, and the smell lingered for a year after the moth balls were removed.


1995 - The Internet was provided to the public for the first time at the library. EOT Telephone donated it to the library.

1995 - Library system went automated, retiring the catalogue system and reducing paperwork.

1997 - Elementary and middle school aged kids were bussed over from the Perham schools to help box up and carry books from the old library to the new one.

1999 - Eggs were tossed at library windows by vandals; panes were broken.

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