First Posted: 1/29/2014
WILKES-BARRE —The Osterhout Free Library first opened at 10 a.m. in 1889, the brain child of area merchant and real estate official Isaac Osterhout.
On Wednesday, 125 years later to the minute, a packed house helped celebrate the library’s anniversary.
“It’s been said that libraries are the highest form of democracy, and Isaac Osterhout understood that,” said Richard Miller, executive director of the library, in a speech. “He left us a free library, which means it’s free to all,” he said.
Osterhout willed a large portion of his estate to be used to establish a free public library after he died.
Miller was pleased with the crowd that turned out despite the cold weather. He said being a part of the library’s legacy a “tremendous honor.”
“We’re really pleased that all these people came out to celebrate the library,” he said. “It’s business as usual, which is the way Isaac Osterhout would have wanted it.”
The celebration was just the first of a series of events this year. Miller said the library will hold a library night with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, unveil a documentary about the library being done by Wilkes University and host other events.
Contributions also were taken for a 2014 time capsule. The library placed a current bookmark, library card, newspapers and brochures into the capsule, as well as other items. The time capsule was open for contributions from the public and will remain open until the end of this week.
Joanne Austin, a supervisor for the library’s North Branch on Oliver Street, said the anniversary was “a wonderful thing.”
Austin’s tenure with the library began in 1973 with a work-study program when she was a student at College Misericordia, not Misericordia University. It was not her initial career plan, she said, but she said she was happy with the way things turned out.
Ruth Kackauskas of Ashley hasn’t been working at the library as long, starting about six months ago. She has been a lifelong visitor, however. She now works to ensure that the books are placed back in the stacks properly.
“I think it’s awesome that the library has been here 125 years and increased its volume of books so, so much,” she said.
Growing source knowledge
Those attending the celebration wandered throughout the room, examining historic photos of the library throughout history.
For Miller, acknowledging the past was as important as taking the next step.
“Our past is also our future,” he said.
Many doubt the future of libraries due to emergence of technology. Austin, however, said libraries cater to technologies and provide ways for the public to use them.
“Not everybody is self-sufficient,” she said. “People still need help with things.”
Miller is confident that the Osterhout will continue to provide information and services well into the future.
“Ask the people that come here to apply for jobs or benefits, or send an email to one of their children or grandchildren serving in the military — I think we’re absolutely necessary, possibly even more so than before,” he said.
Austin is also optimistic. She said the library would continue to adapt to the needs of the community. That adaptation is what has made the institution a lasting one, Austin said.