In 1906, a small group of Ontario women organized the Work and Win Club and in November of its first year the club founded a subscription library. Members of the group contributed $75 for books and Mr. Lou Adam donated the use of a small building for one year; this began the Library system in Ontario, Oregon.
By 1911, though still in the same donated building, the library was requiring more funds for support then the members were able to collect through donation and fund raising; so they petitioned the City Council for an appropriation of one mill tax money. On Feb 5, 1912, a Board of Commission was appointed by the mayor to take over the responsibility of library administration.
Early in 1912 negotiations were begun for the purchase of part of the present library site for $1160 and inquiries were made on how to secure a building fund from the Carnegie Corporation. On March 3, 1913, the City Council and the Carnegie Corporation entered into an agreement and the Council passed a resolution guaranteeing to appropriate not less than $750 a year for maintenance of the library.
Building began on the Carnegie Library structure in 1913 and was ready for occupancy in early 1914. The total cost of the building, complete with furniture and equipment, was $7,958.46. The Carnegie Corporation donated $7500 of the cost. At the time of construction, Ontario’s population was 1248 and the library’s collection of books was less than 1500.
The name of the library was Ontario Public Library until 1919/1920 when the County Court contracted with the library for county wide library services. They agreed to a county tax of three tenths of a mill to help support the library and the name became Malheur County Library. (Note: Malheur County has a total area of 9,930 square miles and in 1920 it had a population of about 10,900 people.)
By the end of 1920, the Library had deposit locations in Vale, Nyssa, and a branch in Jordan Valley. The system grew fast augmented by loan books from the Oregon State Library. Deposit stations were opened anywhere there was room with volunteers for monitoring and checking out the books. The most northern station location was at the school in Malheur City and the most southern being in a bank in McDermitt. The Library has always had a large mail order service; which allowed patrons who were too far away from a branch or deposit location to borrow books by mailing in requests and the library would mail out the books. Even today this service is still in use although requests are more likely to be made by phone or internet.
In 1942, Mr. Thomas Turnbull left the library $7000 to invest with the interest to be used for books. This was to be above and beyond the regular book budget and has mainly been spent on Oregon History books.
In the late 1940s the library purchased a station wagon to make deliveries to the outlying stations as a bookmobile. This was in use until 1956 when the Oregon State Library loaned the use of a bookmobile. It was a program to demonstrate what real bookmobile service was and if supported by local funds the bookmobile and the books it contained would become the property of the library. It became evident in 1958 that the funds could not be found and the bookmobile was returned to the state library.
Over the next few years it became apparent more space was needed and in 1965, talk and idea planning began on what eventually became the current library building.
On January 20, 1966, the city council agreed to purchase additional property adjacent to the library. Then in October of that year a bond election for $220,000 was passed by 82% of the voters. The state library board approved a grant of $180,000 to be used in building and furnishing the new building. Architect Robert J. Smith designed the 22,000 square foot building with a basement and interior balcony. At the time, it was estimated that it would hold at least 85,000 volumes.
During the destruction of the old building and construction of the new, the library staff set up shop in a building located at 51 S.W. Oregon Street and Idaho Avenue which had been leased for one year for the purpose. The old Carnegie Library building was demolished by Ray Kenny in the spring of 1967 and construction of the new building (on the same location) was begun in May of that year. By October 1967, the library had begun taking bids for furnishings and equipment and finally awarded it to the Chapman Company of Twin Falls, Idaho with the lowest bid of $50,878.
After being closed from April 8 - 20, 1968, the Library held its grand opening of the new building on April 21, 1968 at 2:00 pm with an open house from 3 – 6 pm. Total cost of the new construction and furnishings was $410,000.
In 1974, the library, using revenue sharing funds, was able to purchase a step van to use as a bookmobile. Shelves were installed and routes worked out for the new bookmobile to deliver library services to most of Malheur County for 8 months of every year.
In 1995, with the help of a Bill Gates Foundation Grant, a State ELST Grant and hundreds of volunteer hours the library was able to computerize its registration process. At this time Public Access computers also became available at the library – allowing patrons to access the internet.
The current Bookmobile was acquired through a grant from the Oregon State Library in 1998. It is 25 feet long and was built by Ohio Bus Company on a school bus chassis. It holds over 2,000 items, including books for all ages, DVDs, and audio cassette books. The Bookmobile received its name, The Voyager, from a contest that was held among local school children at the time. In 1999, the former step van bookmobile was donated to Malheur County Sheriff Search and Rescue by the library and the City of Ontario.
In 2001, more improvements followed when Mrs. Vivian Moss bequeathed money to help make the library disability accessible. Her generosity allowed the library to install an elevator (as well as other upgrades) which greatly improved access to all parts of the library for all patrons and staff. The Library then won the Eastern Oregon Center for Independent Living 2001 Access Award.
After that due to the local economic down turn and budget cuts the library was forced to cut hours and then staff and finally bookmobile services. Between 2005 and 2006, local volunteers and patrons worked hard to put a Library District proposal on the county ballot – this measure would have combined Ontario, Vale, and Nyssa as one Library District. The measure failed and supporters went back to the drawing board. Finally in 2008 the library reached an all-time low with 24 hours open and 5 part time staff members. Again a library district was proposed – this time using the same boundaries established by the Ontario 8C School District. The measure passed, thus giving the Ontario Library District a sustainable tax based budget. Shortly after that the newly elected Library Board had a contest asking local school children to give the library a nick name and that is when the name Ontario Community Library came into use.
Years 2009 - 11 saw increases in hours and staffing, along with the commencement of new programs like the Family Winter Reading Program (first held Jan-Feb 2011), and increased activities and budgets for existing programs. The process of updating public access computers was also begun.
In 2012, the Library has increased to 40 open hours with 10 employees, 3 of which are full time. It has a functioning website and with the support of the Libraries of Eastern Oregon Library Consortium (LEO) and the Oregon State Library opened up the availability of numerous patron access links for online use. Malheur County is also still supplying funding to the bookmobile to ensure library access to all of Malheur County year round.
During 2013 and 2014 the Library increased it’s open hours to 47 and a new employee joined the ranks, making a total of 11 employees, with 4 at full time. The website is flourishing and the email event letter and Facebook page has given the Library more opportunity to communicate and interact with the community digitally. The Libraries of Eastern Oregon Library Consortium (LEO) and the Oregon State Library have continued to support the library by helping to provide numerous patron access links for online use of catalogs, patron accounts, informational links and eBooks. Malheur County continues to supply funding to the bookmobile to ensure library access to all of Malheur County year round.
From 2015 to 2017, the library has continued to grow its book collection and increase programming for patrons. The interior of the building has been painted, new carpet installed and upgraded computer tables brought in to make using the computers more comfortable for patrons. Over the last two years, 8 new computers have been added for patron use along with monthly classes on basic computer and internet use. The Bookmobile has a total of 20 different stops it makes periodically through out the year averaging 15 stops a month. The library staff and board strive daily to make the library a vibrant and safe place for the community to use and enjoy.
Between 2017 and 2020, improvements include two AWE Learning Computers for the children's section and three Card Catalog tablets. Which are located in the Children's section, Adult Non Fiction and near the Audio Books. The Library holds more than 100,000 items including books, movies, and audiobooks. Also during this time the Library gained access to online ebooks and audio books thru the Overdrive Apps.
Ontario Community Library's mission and philosophy is to enrich lives by fostering diverse opportunities for all people to read, learn and connect. We hope to continue serving the community for many years to come.