Ground broke late last month for the O’Brien Memorial Library in Blue River. The previous building was destroyed in the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. The library holds a special place in the community.
School teacher Frances O’Brien started checking out books to Blue River residents from orange crates on her front porch in 1928.
Connie Richardson, who serves as president of the library, said O’Brien would check out hundreds of books from the state traveling library. In 1971, O’Brien’s husband and some friends moved a three-room cabin that had been donated onto their property for the library. That was its first building.
“When they moved that three-room cabin over there, Frances thought, ‘This will just be taken care of for all time,’” Richardson said. “Books just kept coming in.”
They needed to grow, so the Blue River Lions Club helped build a larger, 24-by-32-foot library building. Later, the library was featured on the CBS show “On the Road with Charles Kuralt,” and afterward more books started showing up from all over the country, Richardson said. The library doubled in size with more help from the Lions Club in 1982.
“It was just donated books and shelves. You would walk in a little tiny section that was a kids table with two chairs that you had to kind of squeeze by, especially when there were kids sitting in it,” Richardson said. “You checked out books on index cards.”
In 1988, when O’Brien was 87 years old, she decided to set up a 501(c)(3) with a seven-member board to keep the library going into the future. O’Brien donated the land, the buildings and $30,000.
Richardson said, after O’Brien died in 1995, the name was changed from the Blue River Library to the O’Brien Memorial Library.
“She just wanted to make sure the books were available to anybody at any point in time, and we’re just trying to continue on her legacy,” said Richardson.
Richardson said the Holiday Farm Fire was a devastating loss to the community as it wiped out the whole town, including the library.
“To me, when you see a main building, especially a library, coming back, it just kind of says, ‘Look at it. We’re here to stay,’” Richardson said. “This provides hope. We want it to be a place where people can come and feel welcome and know that they can come and check out books or just come and enjoy and relax and connect.”
Richardson said there was a community survey before they started plans for the rebuilt library.
“They wanted internet access. They wanted a community meeting room,” Richardson said. “One of our main things is going to be a reading area with an electric fireplace.”
The new building will have running water and bathrooms, which wasn’t available at the previous library. It will also feature a bigger children’s area, and indoor and outdoor educational areas.
Richardson said while they’ve procured grants to fund the building of the new library they don’t have operating funds. They’re hoping to be able to rent out meeting rooms to generate income. Another idea is to have a place in the outdoor area for food trucks.
The library is a nonprofit and will continue to be staffed by volunteers.
The community held a groundbreaking event for the approximately $1.6 million new library building on Oct. 27. Richardson said the hope is to have the new building open and operational in fall of 2024.
“It’s very encouraging that people believe in us, believe in our little library,” Richardson said.
For now, the O’Brien Memorial Library is in a temporary location at the Upper McKenzie Community Center and is open 10 hours a week.