Oil City has a long history of library support. The concept of a library in our community began in 1864 when a group of citizens formed an organization called the Petroleum Institute. Aside from buying books for the public’s use, the group met weekly to listen to essays, music, readings and to debate.
The Institute reorganized in 1871 to form the Oil City Library Association. Many of the ideas were not widely supported by the general public and library service suffered due to serious economic problems.
The picture brightened however in 1890 when the Belles Lettres Club was formed for the purpose of studying literature and maintaining a library. An active member of Belles Lettres, Cora Hull Ramage, began corresponding with Andrew Carnegie of Pittsburgh. She requested that Mr. Carnegie donate money for a library. He did agree to donate $44,000 to build the library provided that the citizens provide a site and guarantee $3,000 annually to maintain it.
Andrew Carnegie once said, “A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never sailing spring in the desert.” Mr. Carnegie contributed an estimated 150 million dollars to about 2,800 libraries in the United States and Great Britain. Oil City was fortunate to be one of the recipients but the library has never received any other Carnegie monies.
The women of Belles Lettres went to work and raised over $11,000 to purchase the present site at the corner of Central Avenue and West Front Street.
On July 6, 1904, the Carnegie Library of Oil City opened its doors with 5,000 books that were donated by the Belles Lettres Club.
For over 50 years, the original building served the community well without capital improvements. However, the building was upgraded and modernized in 1959 with funds from the Smedley and Justus estates.
An expanding book collection and increase in public use made the need for more space obvious by the early 1970’s. The 1959 renovation had provided no extra space and the collection had grown to over 54,000 volumes.
Again, the Oil City Library Commission went to the people of Oil City with a building fund drive. With a matching grant from the Justus trusts, over $800,000 was raised to finance the new wing and the major renovation of the existing building.
Since 1990, the Library’s service area has expanded beyond the city limits to include some of the surrounding municipalities.
On July 1, 1995, the Library was designated by Commonwealth Libraries to be one of 29 district library centers in the state of PA. The Library is also known as the Oil Creek District Library Center and is the district center for the 14 public libraries in the counties of Venango, Clarion and Jefferson.
The present facility currently provides space for over 100,000 items and serves over 15,000 individuals in the library’s service area.
In 2004, the Library celebrated 100 years of quality service to the community with a memorable year in the Library’s history.
The celebration of a century of existence sets in motion for the next one hundred years a continuation and enhancement of the quality library service that our patrons expect and depend on.
Picture from the post card collection of Lydia Johnson