The Natrona County Public Library System traces its origins to a reading room established and operated by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1902. A Library Association was organized on November 3, 1903. Casper Mayor Wilson S. Kimball, a trustee of the library, wrote to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in June of 1905. His efforts were rewarded with a $10,000 grant to the town of Casper to construct a library. C.A. Randall designed the building and Charles Galusha was awarded the $10,400 construction contract.
After two years, the library was still incomplete and funds were depleted. Carnegie agreed to donate another $3,000, however, the building still remained unfinished. The Town Council presented the building and the city-owned property – now the corner of Second and Durbin Streets – to Natrona County.
The County assumed responsibility for the library on November 3, 1909 and the white-domed Carnegie Library opened to the public on May 20, 1910. About 300 people attended the opening reception and dance.
When it opened, the Natrona County Public Library had a collection of 850 books to serve the county’s population of 2,700 people. By 1920 the population was 14,600 and the library collection had grown to 14,000 books.
In 1925 an addition to the back of the original Carnegie building provided a Durbin Street entrance and more than doubled the library’s capacity. In 1929, the library was designated a Selective Depository for government documents in the Federal Depository Library Program.
In August 1950, a $260,000 library expansion bond was passed and in January 1954, a 7,500 square-foot addition to the east was opened. The Library’s nine employees circulated 138,300 books to 5,700 borrowers. Casper’s population was then 23,700.
In 1956, the first bookmobile began operation in a converted grocery delivery truck. In 1967, Natrona County’s population was 56,000, library cards numbered 18,300, circulation hit 247,600 and the library held 67,800 books and 200 magazines. The Friends of the Library was also established in 1967. Their first annual used book sale was held in 1972. As of 2011, the sales had cumulatively raised $1,000,000 to assist with library projects.
In 1967, a bond issue was proposed to purchase additional land, raze the original Carnegie building and the neighboring American Legion building, purchase a bookmobile (a converted school bus), and construct a new Midwest-Edgerton Branch Library.
The bond failed by 349 votes, but backers led by board member Jim Crawford persevered. In August of 1969, a $1 million bond passed. The original Carnegie and the 1925 addition were demolished and replaced by a new structure. The resulting west wing of the main library was dedicated in 1972 with a weeklong celebration.
The Friends of the Library, along with area business people and residents, commissioned the 16-foot bronze sculpture of Prometheus to be set in front of the curving window wall in the outdoor plaza. Prometheus is sited close to where the Carnegie building’s front doors once faced Second Street. The Crawford Room is named after long time Library Board member Jim Crawford (1946-1957 & 1965-1971).
Under head librarian Ken Dowlin, the first venture in the U.S. between a public library and a cable television company went into operation. In 1971, a converted bus christened the “Reading Roustabout” replaced the grocery truck becoming the library’s second bookmobile. In 1981, a replacement bookmobile was purchased with $50,000 of One-Cent Optional Sales Tax dollars.
The Natrona County Public Library Foundation was incorporated in 1972 to aid the library in securing money for library capital improvements and for financial support of the general library program. It is a public foundation and exempt from Federal income tax under IRS Code 501(c) (3). It’s Articles of Incorporation were modified in 2000 to create an independent board.
In 1993, NCPL became the nation’s 75th Patent and Trademark Depository Library (PTDL) and housed this research collection until 2001. In September 1995, the current Children’s Library, funded primarily by optional one-cent sales tax money, was opened.
The present facility consists of two wings, the east wing that opened in 1954 as an addition to the Carnegie building, and the main wing, built in 1972, replacing the Carnegie Library entirely. Total area is roughly —30,000 sf. A renovation of public spaces was completed in 1998.
In 2004, the library took delivery of a new bookmobile and expanded mobile service. During that same year the library created a Teen Zone and Tech Center. The library circulated 701,819 items during FY 10-11 to 44,547 card holders.
By 2007, the main library in downtown Casper was overcrowded and serving far more patrons annually than the building was designed for. Compared with other Wyoming libraries, NCPL had become the smallest Wyoming library on a per capita basis, with the lowest number of books and other items in relation to population size. A ballot proposal to fund a new library building with a one-cent Special Purpose Excise Tax (SPET) failed at the polls in 2008.
In 2009, the NCPL Foundation raised private funds and purchased the property that had been identified as an ideal central location for a new library. A second SPET initiative was put forward in the 2012 election, costing significantly less than the first proposal because of falling construction costs, reduction in the proposed library size, and the Foundation’s purchase of the property. This second initiative failed by a narrow margin of 588 votes.
NCPL continues to serve over 1,000 patrons daily, checking out nearly 700,000 items to Natrona County citizens each year.
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by Walter R. Jones
This publication, sponsored by the NCPL Foundation is available to purchase at the library’s main checkout desk.