South Side Branch
The South Side Branch also had its share of growing pains. Since its inception in 1906, the branch occupied five homes: Fourth Street and Brodhead Avenue, the southwest corner of the same intersection, Broughal Junior High School, and West Fourth Street. Finally, in January of 1930, the branch's current home at Fourth and Webster Streets was completed and has served as a home away from home for generations of South Side residents.
South Side Branch in 1950, 4th & Webster Streets, 1930-Present
The Community and the Library
The Public Library is an absolutely essential part of the equipment of every city that undertakes to care for the real welfare of its people. It is the People's University, and its doors must be open to the public all the time, and every citizen, whether he or she happens to make direct personal use of the library or not, needs it—needs it for the welfare of the city as a whole, for the rising generation, for the possibilities of real advancement of the community's highest interest.
Paul De Schweinitz, Letter to the Editor
Bethlehem Globe-Times – October 28, 1924
Gifts and subscriptions sustained the library from 1901 through 1920. In 1920, the school board began providing a $10,000 a year allotment; however, in 1924, the school board withdrew this appropriation. This withdrawal threatened to close the doors of the library. Rather than face a future with no public library, the Bethlehem community voted in 1924 to approve a half-mill tax in support of the library.
When the library had outgrown its facilities on Market Street, yet again the public offered its support. In 1965 it was learned that $500,000 in federal funds would be available through the state for a library. Bethlehem Globe-Times publisher, Rolland Adams, offered a gift of $250,000 toward a new library if it were matched by private contributions. City Council agreed to provide an additional $500,000 if the gifts and other funds were forthcoming. Within one month the citizens of Bethlehem pledged over $292,000, and the new library was begun on August 17, 1965. A little over two years later, on November 11, 1967, the citizenry again rallied to support their library as over 700 volunteers moved 80,000 volumes from the old to the new building.
The community continues to provide support for the library through their patronage, financial support and volunteerism. Throughout its years, the Bethlehem Area Public Library attempted to return the favor by being available to the public in their time of need.
During World War I libraries nationwide met the need for reading materials for the armed services. In 1917 and 1918 soldier's library funds were called for and delivered by the Bethlehem Area Public Library. During the Great Depression, the library proved to be a source of comfort and a place of refuge for the unemployed. The benefits of the library are exemplified in its use with nearly half the population as registered users.
Throughout the remainder of the century, the Bethlehem Area Public Library met the expectations of the community through traditional and new mediums of communication.
Initiated in 1965, interlibrary loan extends the resources of the library's patrons. The addition of records, films, microfilms, slides, cassettes, videocassettes and compact discs meets the public's need for extended services and offerings. The Bookmobile, a service that began operations in 1971, has been a great success among adults and children who might not otherwise have access to the library's holdings.
The Future of the Library
We are excited about providing top quality library service in the new century. Our commitment is to always strive for more effective and efficient ways to meet the needs of our library users.
Jack M. Berk, Executive Director – 1999 Bethlehem Area Public Library Annual Report
Ever-changing electronic developments continue to change the operations of the Bethlehem Area Public Library. Rather than a homey atmosphere reported in early twentieth century libraries, the library of the twenty-first century is one of a charged energy fostered by the exchange of ideas in oral, electronic and traditional text formats. Adapting to this era of rapid change is the twenty-first century library's greatest challenge, and the Bethlehem Area Public Library is meeting it head on in a number of ways.
Through collaboration with academic institutions, the Bethlehem Area Public Library is producing digital projects that provide the public with access to rare and fragile documents while preserving them for future generations. By creating partnerships with academic and public libraries in the Lehigh Valley, the library is able to provide the most up-to-date and comprehensive records for the Bethlehem community. And, of course, providing the library's patrons with the most recent fiction and non-fiction materials remains the backbone of the Bethlehem Area Public Library.
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For more on history of the library, see our
Local History Education pages