History of the Library
The New Bern-Craven County Public Library has it’s origins in the 1820s. There was a public library in New Bern as early as 1823, as evidenced by the stockholder minutes of the New Bern Library Company.
The beginnings of the current library began at the home of Carolyn Durand Mayhew. Ms. Mayhew was assisted by Lucy A. Rishton. In 1890, the two ladies organized the Whatsoever Circle of the International Order of the King’s Daughter and Sons. Ms. Mayhew began the library project with a personal donation of twenty-five dollars. Books were housed on a bookcase in her home; community residents were allowed to borrow books.
In 1895, the Mission Circle of the King’s Daughters took over the library project. On July 29, 1895, the Mission Ten Circle purchased the two-story building known as the New Bern Yacht Club. The upstairs of the building housed the library. Boats were rented out to customers to raise funds for the library. The library was open Tuesday and Friday afternoons each week and two evenings per month. The Hurricane of 1899 damaged the platform leading the library. As a result, the building was eventually sold and the library moved.
New Bern Circulating Library
In 1902, the library re-opened to its subscribers. The subscription library was located over the offices of Drs. Charles and Frank Duffy on Middle Street. The librarian was Frances J. Howerton, who would hold this position from 1907 to 1940.
There was a subscription price of two dollars for use of the library. The New Bern Woman’s Club helped in supporting the New Bern Circulating Library.
New Bern Library Association
In 1910, the library was moved to rooms on the third floor of the Elks Building. On February 29, 1912, the New Bern Library Association received it’s charter. In the same year, the Sultan property (147 Middle St.) was conveyed by Mr. & Mrs. Hugh J. Lovick to the Association.
In 1934, the library directors began to consider selling the library building and purchasing the Stanly House. On April 5, 1935, the historic John Wright Stanly House on New Street became the property of the New Bern Library Association. In the same year, the library became a free public library for Craven County residents. The Stanly House was purchased for $5300 and the previous library building was sold to the First Church of Christ Scientist for use as a reading room. The Stanly House would be the home for the New Bern Library for the next 30 years.
In 1949, bookmobile service was introduced to residents of Craven and Pamlico Counties. The bookmobile was a dark green Chevrolet truck with four sections of shelves opening from the outside. About 500 books were held on the bookmobile at one time. The bookmobile stopped at four locations in the two counties once per month.
The library obtained a new bookmobile in 1972. This was a much larger unit which was air conditioned and carpeted. A newer bookmobile was obtained in the 1980s. This bookmobile was donated to St. Bernard Parish Library, Louisiana in 2006.
West Street Library
The West Street Colored Library was established on June 6, 1935 with Works Project Administration funding. The first library president was Rev. R.I. Johnson, rector of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church.It was located at the West Street School, now known as Danyus School. Under the guidance of Mrs. Isaac H. Smith, a new $8,000 library building was established. The new library was dedicated and opened in 1947. The third president, Charlotte S. Rhone, improved the library’s collection and added a cement walkway. The library board of directors was composed of White and African-American citizens. In 1972, funding for the West Street library was stopped. Craven County Commissioner Carmi White recommended that the library merge with the New Bern branch of the library system. In the summer of 1973, the West Street library became part of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library.
New Bern-Craven County Public Library
In 1964, a committee was formed to find a new building for the library. The Library Board decided to donate the John Wright Stanly House to the Tryon Palace Commission. The new library site chosen was two adjoining lots on the corner of Johnson and Middle Streets. John N. Petersen was selected as architect for the new building. In 1965, a Board of Trustees was established. Temporary headquarters for the library was set up at 311 E. Front St. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on December 15 1966. The dedication and formal opening of the new library occurred on January 28, 1968.
Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library
The Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library system was first organized in 1962. In 1963, Elinor Hawkins became the first director of the library system. Also, she began a weekly story hour program on local television channel twelve (WNBE). The program aired at 7:30 each Saturday morning. In the 1960s, bookmobile service expanded. Hayden H. Jones served as Bookmobile Assistant before becoming Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Secretary.
Library Expansion, 1987-1992
In 1987, an expansion was proposed which would double the size of the library from 12,500 to 26,200 square feet. The new building would include: an expansion of the North Carolina Room, an auditorium, an expanded children’s library with a mini-theater, a new entrance with a lobby and display area, and accessibility for people with disabilities. The groundbreaking for the new library was on September 6, 1990. The newly expanded library opened on January 6, 1992. The North Carolina Room received a grant from the Kellenberger Foundation which provided for renovation of the room.
In 1992, Elinor Hawkins retired as librarian of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library and director of the Craven-Pamlico Carteret Library System (after 35 years with the library). Wayne Modlin was Regional Director and Librarian from 1992 to 1995. In 1996, Jackie Beach became Regional Director and retired in 2012. Linda Muir served as Librarian from 1997 to 2000, followed by Donna Rhein from 2000 to 2001. In March 2002, Joanne Straight became Librarian of the New Bern-Craven County Public Library.
In recent years, the New Bern-Craven County Public Library has undergone technological advancements and building renovations. Library users may search for materials using the online catalog, conduct research on the Internet, and take free computer classes. The New Bern-Craven County Public Library, from its humble beginnings, has become a central point for the New Bern community. At the same time, it has maintained a strong connection with its historical roots and with the history of New Bern.