On a chilly February day in 1919, the Hailey Public Library opened its doors for the first time. Operated by Miss Nettie Mallory and Miss Edith Ensign, the barebones bibliothèque loaned books to readers from a few shelves in a space sandwiched between the assayer’s office and The Vogue Shoppe on the north corner of Main and west Bullion streets.
Only eight years later, in February 1927, the entire library and its contents were consumed in a fire.
Struggles and setbacks characterized the early days of the Hailey Public Library only as much as did the commitment and hard work of its librarians, who tireless scraped money together through a wide variety fundraiser events and initiatives.
“There was a group of women that were so dedicated to having a library in Hailey,” said LeAnn Gelsky, the library’s current executive director. “They struggled at first to get something going, something really dynamic, but they understood the importance of literature in creating a town.”
Through the years, the library has occupied four spaces around Hailey, circulated untold thousands of books, promoted literacy and reading for all ages and seen 11 library directors—including one Lulu Cunningham, who in 1956 retired at age 92; at that time she was the oldest active librarian in the United States.
A century after its inception, the Hailey Public Library is still going strong, remaining a stalwart fixture of the town.
Since January, the library has hosted a series of parties, retrospective lectures and other events to celebrate this major milestone.
On Feb. 19, the actual centennial anniversary of the library, they held a speakeasy party at The Mint. Weather in February being what it is, however, the library has targeted the summer for a proper outdoor birthday party. On Friday, July 19, a section of west Croy Street next to the library will be the venue for a major centennial celebration, replete with food, drink, fun activities and live music by the Kim Stocking Band.
The day’s proceedings will kick off at 4 p.m. with a guided walking tour led by local historian Robert Lonning, author of the Hailey installment of the popular several-thousand-volume “Images of America” series.
Lonning will lead tour participants on a walk around town, highlighting past library locations and speaking on the history of the library and the town alike, drawing upon his vast knowledge of the area.
The tour will conclude at 5 p.m. back at the current location, at which point the party will begin. Local food and drink vendors will offer sustenance to the partygoers. Perhaps most exciting in the lineup is a new beer, specially concocted by the Sun Valley Brewery to mark this auspicious occasion. As vessels for this bookish brew, commemorative Hailey Library cups will be available for the first 100 attendees.
In addition to various games—complete with prizes to be won—a selection of STEM activities will be on offer, providing a glimpse into part of the future of library programming.
These look forward to the coming years, but at the same time, visitors to the library can enjoy an exhibition of the Mallory Collection, a vast array of historical photographs captured by Martyn Mallory, the renowned early 20th-century photographer who documented some of the most formative years in the Wood River Valley’s history.
This comprehensive collection of more than 4,000 images was donated to the library upon Mallory’s untimely death in 1936. Today, the glass-plate negatives and developed positives provide insight into regional history. Many of these photos formed the backbone of Lonning’s “Images of America” volume.
Between the exhibition, the numerous activities and creation of a time capsule—for which the library is accepting proposals and suggestions from the public—the big birthday bash will run the gambit of Hailey’s history.
“We really want to talk both about the past and the future,” Gelsky said. “We’ve got something for everybody. It’s a chance for the whole community to come together to celebrate. One hundred years is a big deal, not only for the library, but I think it’s a big deal for Hailey, too.”
With 100 years confidently under its belt, the valley’s oldest book repository shows no signs of faltering. People who stop by at 4 p.m. for the historical walking tour and then from 5-8 p.m. for the festivities can raise a glass to another 100 years of literacy and learning in Hailey.