Pre-1873 Nashville Library Association Legislator’s Ticket issued to W. M. Beek
Nashville Library Association
On May 13, 1871, the Committee on Organization published an article in the Nashville Union and American calling on the citizens of Nashville, Tennessee to come together to “consider a project of [no] deeper interest or importance” than to organize a public library “to advance the material progress of the people.” By June 1871, there was a membership of 300, and on July 4th, the central room of the State Bank Building at Union and Cherry was secured rent-fee as the location of the library. A yearly fee of $5 was instituted (approx. $150 today), as well as lifetime and honorary memberships at higher rates. The library was available to men and women from 8am-10pm, Monday through Saturday. The citizenry of Nashville was encouraged to donate books and publications to fill the shelves before opening day. Dr. D. H. Rains was engaged as Librarian. On September 11, 1871, the Nashville Library Association (NLA) opened its doors to the public with more than 3,000 mostly-donated volumes on the shelves. For the next four years, the NLA would offer the lastest periodicals, newspapers and literature to their members, as well as lectures, concerts, poetry readings, spelling bees and more.
On July 2, 1875, the Tennessean newspaper reported that the NLA had leased the library to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) for a term of three years. As membership and attendance had been declining, the YMCA proposed contributing funds to relieve the NLA of certain debts, and would take full charge of the library to “resuscitate its dying energies.”
In January 1882, the YMCA published their intentions in the Tennessean to return the management of the public reading room to the NLA “since those for whom it was intended do not care to sustain it.” The YMCA no longer deemed it wise to divert donations from YMCA supporters meant to “aid young men” to the continued support of a failing public reading room. At the same time, the State Bank Building, built in 1838, was sold and dismantled stone-by-stone in February 1882.
The YMCA took rooms at the Olympic Theater Building to continue service to their membership, and by December 1882, management of the library returned to the NLA; however, the library struggled to remain open. In an article in the Tennessean newspaper dated December 28, 1882, R. A. Campbell, Secretary of the NLA, beseeched Nashville citizens to “cast your bread upon the waters” and support the public library. There is no significant information as to the continued operation of the NLA after December 1882.