In the first 64 years of its history Denison had the dubious distinction of being the largest city in Texas without a public library. In the spring of 1935, however, the Junior Alpha Delphi Club saw the need, decided to adopt a public library as its project, and privately began gathering books. The idea probably originated with Clarence Johnson, who had to travel to Sherman for reference work.
Mrs. Jake McCall, president of the Sr. Delphians and sponsor of the local group, spearheaded the project. The original Munson homestead at 231 North Rusk Avenue was offered rent-free for two years. The Munson home, when built, was one of the showplaces in Denison, being the first brick house ever built here. The Jr. Delphians enlisted the aid of other interested citizens and that same spring made their first direct appeal to the city government for support of a public library. The city council first was apathetic to the idea, but finally approved $100 to repair the roof of the 52-year-old building. The Denison Garden Club agreed to take over maintenance of the grounds.
A mass meeting was held and resulted in a money-raising carnival. Boy Scouts assisted in collection of books and magazines. Mrs. Pauline Jordan, high school librarian, directed cataloging. With two relief workers from the county library division of the WPA, the Jr. Delphians did most of the work in cleaning and repairing the building and on November 22, 1935, the library was formally opened with a book and silver tea, attended by 250 persons. The number of books at the time totaled 1,200. On November 23, the XXI Club donated its circulating library to the new library.
In January 1936, the club realized the project had outgrown the member's time and abilities and elected a board of eight to serve with the club's library committee. Later on during the year, when the library became officially an adjunct of the city, Ford Seale was elected the first chairman, and Miss Eloise Munson, Vice-Chairman. Upon Mr. Seale's retirement from the board a few years later, Miss Munson succeeded him as chairman and served in that capacity thirty-two years, until her death in 1969. Most of the growth and many improvements in the library were accomplished under her inspirational leadership.
It was so difficult for the library to obtain operating funds and books that the Board finally asked citizens to call an election to raise taxes to give the library a maintenance and operating fund. The Jr. Delphians cooperated by going from home to home to obtain signatures on the petition. The election carried September 15, 1936 and the tax was set at two and a half cents per hundred-dollar valuation.
During the World War II years, Millard Cope, a board member and former Denison Herald publisher, suggested starting a campaign to give memorial books for Denison men lost in the war. This program was continued and its scope enlarged until now one of the main sources for books is through memorials.
By 1948, it became obvious that the structure being used was no longer adequate. One room had been condemned and books were overflowing every bit of available space. In January of that year, the city had an election for additional school facilities and $100,000 was including for the building of a new structure for the library. This, which also included raising the library tax from two and one half cents to five cents, was passed. When a library committee failed to locate a suitable site for the new building, the present site was generously donated by the Munson Estate and construction was started on the new structure in September 1948. The library was moved to the basement of the Kraft Building, now the Barrett Building, during construction and remained there until January 1950. The new building was formally opened Sunday, May 21, 1950 with the Hon. Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, as the principal speaker.
In 1953, the W. B. Munson Foundation gave the library a gift of a 25-ton refrigerated air conditioning unit. In 1964, the Denison Service League gave the library a microfilm reader, film storage cabinet, and a year's subscription to the New York Times on microfilm.
1965 was a big year for the library. It gained nationwide prominence when the Book-of-the-Month Club National Library Awards were announced. The Library was selected as one of the top ten small city libraries in the United States. The Library was the only library in the Southwest selected for the 1965 Awards. The Award included a grant of one thousand dollars for the purchase of books. An application for federal funds under the Library Services and Construction Act of 1964 was approved and a grant of $5,000 for books, binding, and small equipment was received. Having outgrown all the available space the Library Board of Directors approved an expansion plan and applied for a federal grant to help with the cost. The grant was approved and the Library closed December 14, 1965 for remodeling and expansion work. When the Library reopened February 1, 1966 its book capacity was almost doubled by the addition of a mezzanine and the library had a new coat of paint inside. This was the first expansion and painting of the inside since the library opened in its new building in 1950.
In 1975 a major expansion of the library was completed which increased the total area of the building from 8,500 to 18, 356 square feet by joining the new addition to the original building. The library addition was launched with a $58,000 gift from the Rose Knaur Estate, $52,000 was used to purchase the building and two lots across the street from the library to be used as a parking lot. The original budget for the project was $458,000; $200,000 in federal revenue sharing funds, a matching $200,000 donated by the W. B. Munson Foundation, and the $58,000 from the Rose Knaur Estate. A combination of delays plus spiraling inflation threatened the library expansion unless additional funds could be raised. The citizens of Denison and the W. B. Munson Foundation came to the rescue.
A Thousand Dollar Club was organized, with all contributions of $1,000 or more to be honored on a plaque at the entrance to the library. The Munson Foundation agreed to match all funds raised by the Thousand Dollar Club. The idea immediately caught on, and 44 generous organizations, companies, citizens, and former citizens of Denison donated $68,434.87. Coupled with the Munson Foundation and Thousand Dollar Club funds were $38,707 in earned interest as well as numerous smaller gifts from library patrons.
At the time of the expansion the old section of the building received a complete renovation including new lighting and carpeting throughout. The main entrance of the original building was enclosed with a bay window and furnished with wicker furniture to create a popular reading area. The main floor now houses the adult and rare book selections, reference and information services, a conference room, and staff lounge while the mezzanine serves as a storage area for back issues of periodicals, the microfilm holdings, and the microfilm readers.
The spacious new wing to the building houses the business office, technical services, lending services, children's services, the oversize book collections, audio visual materials collection and equipment, new and large type print books, current issues of magazines and newspapers, the copier, art reproductions, and the meeting room.