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A Brief History of the Dare County Library - abridged and updated from the work of Nikki Guthrie


March 14, 1935. In a small room above a store in downtown Manteo, the library opened its doors to the public with a collection of 14 books donated by the Manteo Woman’s Club. It was run by volunteers; among them were Zenovah Etheridge, Rosa Drinkwater, Rennie Griffin Williamson, and Hazel Midgett.

The idea caught on and more book donations came in from many sources, including visitors to the area from New York, New Jersey, and Vermont, and further contributions by the Manteo Woman’s Club. Seven and a half months later the number of volumes was 1,000!


By 1940, the books numbered 2,600. During that year the Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed and gave a community building to the town of Manteo, and the library was relocated there the following year. (This building still stands at the northeast corner of Budleigh Street and North Main Highway).

Late in 1940, an ambitious project was started – “traveling libraries” – the forerunner of a modern bookmobile. These “traveling libraries” – cases built to hold 25 books each – were to become a valuable part of library services in the war years that followed.

In 1941, Georgia Harwood was the new librarian, also salaried by the WPA, and the library was comfortably at home in the in the new community building.

1942 was a year of challenge, presenting the library with a battalion of problems. Scattered along the 90 miles of the Outer Banks were 13 Coast Guard stations, averaging 40 men each and at Kitty Hawk was a U.S. Signal Corps unit with 140 men. There were also: a U.S. Army Infantry company (150 men), a Civil Air Patrol (90 men), a U.S. naval Air Base (1,200 men), and a shipbuilding company (140 men). All of the latter were on Roanoke Island. Complementing these groups were wives and children, an addition of perhaps 500. Suddenly there was a population increase of nearly 2,800 people. Now the “traveling libraries” came into their own. Used primarily to reach those stationed on the Outer Banks, Coast Guard trucks, U.S. Mail vehicles and private cars transported the books. This oddly assorted caravan had to travel for miles along unpaved sandy roads, eventually to be ferried across the often-turbulent waters of Oregon Inlet. Landing on the other shore, the drivers faced more sandy roads before arriving at their goals. The inventory had now increased to 4,120 books, but this meant that there was an average of just one-half book per person. Since the library had to serve both town and schools, only 8 of the Coast guard stations could be supplied at first. Then the library was declared a war project, sharing its quarters with a U.S.O. unit, and received additional funding from government sources. Working 84 hours a week – open 7 days for 12 hours a day – these two services filled a very real need for men who were geographically isolated and lacked recreational facilities.


After the war, the library continued to grow, and in 1950, the first bookmobile was purchased – a green Willys Jeep that was converted for the purpose – and began making regularly scheduled runs. As there were then no bridges from the mainland nor to the Outer Banks, all trips involved ferries. Georgia Harwood retired in 1956, to be succeeded by Jean Turner Ward, who would serve as librarian for the next fifteen years.


By 1960, nearly 19,000 books were crowded into a space barely adequate for half that number. Around this time, Dare County Library became part of the East Albemarle Regional Library System – meaning that two or three times the number of volumes would be available through a mutual sharing agreement with Pasquotank-Camden and Currituck libraries. In 1963 a building site was found and in 1964 the land was purchased for a larger library. While the Federal Library Construction Act would provide 55% of the funds, the other 45% had to be acquired locally. Fundraising is an arduous and often thankless undertaking, but again native ingenuity was equal to the challenge. Door-to-door campaigns, dances, benefit bridge parties, fashion shows, the establishment of a memorial fund – all contributed to the effort. Another campaign was launched to purchase new furnishings and equipment for the new library. This time the public was asked to donate furnishings, and each piece purchased bore a plaque with the donors’ names. The new Dare County Library was dedicated on Sunday, April 27, 1969.


The original blueprints had called for a multi-purpose section to the new library, but funding did not allow for it, so it was back to fundraising one more time. In 1971, the two-room annex was completed, providing space for meetings, story hours, exhibits and many more functions. Jean Turner Ward retired and Bertha L. McKann became librarian. In 1975, a new bookmobile, “the Condensed Version” was purchased. With continuing population growth and increased traffic, many patrons expressed concern about returning material to the library on time. So in 1976, book drops were established at Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head and Hatteras. The Hatteras Community Library became a branch of the Dare County Library in 1977, with Yancy Foster as the branch librarian.


On March 7, 1982, “Karen’s Corner”, located in the juvenile section of the library was dedicated to the memory of Karen Holton, and contains easy books for beginning readers. This area was built and furnished by contributions to the Holton Memorial Fund. In 1985 a new edition of “The Condensed Version” was purchased; this time fully air-conditioned, much to the delight of all.


As the population continued to grow, so did the Dare County Library. Land was acquired in Kill Devil Hills, and in February of 1990, the Kill Devil Hills Library opened its doors. In July of 1991, the bookmobile was discontinued, although a van was purchased to continue the “outreach” program servicing shut-ins. In 1994 an enormous task was begun throughout the region – automation. Paradoxically, to implement this modern system, much tedious work was involved – each individual item in each library had to be bar-coded by hand! Data entry also needed to be performed, a long and time-consuming job for both staff and volunteers. In early 1995, the libraries were up and running on a fully automated circulation system.


In December 2002, the Dare County Library Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit is incorporated. In 2005, a second generation library website went live with enhanced content such as book jackets and book reviews. In 2006, our computer network was modernized with DSL, and later, Ethernet. Courier service was increased between larger libraries from twice a week to three times a week. Smaller libraries now receive courier service two times per week rather than once. Requested materials are generally in the hands of our users within 48 hours at Manteo and Kill Devil Hills or 72 hours at Hatteras. In 2008, The Dare County Library Foundation sponsored a first “Winter Enrichment Series” of adult humanities programs at all three libraries. On May 29, 2008 a completely renovated and expanded Hatteras Library opened to the public.  In 2012, eBook lending began.