Kingsport Book Club-Celebrating 90 Years of Service

The Kingsport Book Club is celebrating 90 years of service and we have a lot to thank the organization for! The women of the Kingsport Book Club were the driving force behind Kingsport’s Public Library.

The Kingsport Book Club's 1921 production of "Everybody's Husband." The play was one of many fundraising ventures to support the starting of the Kingsport Public Library. (L to R) Mrs. Herbert Williamson, Mrs. W.R. Gilmer, Allen Dryden, Mrs. S. P. Platt, Mrs. H. J. Shivell, J. Fred Johnson, Mrs. R. Y. Grant, Mrs. K. W. Koeniger, John Miller, K. W. Koeniger, Mrs. Henry C. Meeks, W. R. Gilmer, and Mrs. F. M. Keller.

The group organized in 1919 under the leadership of five women: Mrs. H. J. Shivell, Mrs. S. P. Platt, Mrs. George MacNaughton, Mrs. L. A. DaShiell, and Mrs. Karl Koeniger. It was a casual club, with regular meetings in which each member discussed the books they had recently read.

By 1921, the club had a more formal arrangement and their selection of favorite books became the nucleus of a private library. The ladies looked for a permanent location for their growing collection, ultimately choosing the basement of the community Y.M.C.A. building, on Shelby street. In August  1921 the Kingsport Public Library opened, with an initial collection of 400 books.

Genevieve Shivell played a significant role in organizing the Kingsport Book Club. After the Book Club ceded its collection to the City in 1929, Genevieve Shivell became a charter member of the new Library Board. She continued her affiliation with the Library for 42 years. Today, the children's department of the library bears her name.

Over the next decade the Kingsport Public Library moved many times, reflecting its growth and popularity. The original library membership was 41, increasing to 341 in under two years. Library funding, always a concern, never came from public funds. Rather, the library depended on “events” sponsored by the Book Club: bridge parties, flower shows, carnivals, etc. By the end of the 1920s, however, even these revenue sources were not enough to fund library operations.

Entryway into the Kingsport Public Library located within City Hall on the corner of Center and Shelby Streets, 1936.

The Book Club requested that the library be included as a city department. The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen accepted the proposal, and on March 15, 1929 the library changed from private enterprise into municipal ownership. Again the library moved, this time back to the Y.M.C.A. building which was now City Hall. When the City of Kingsport assumed ownership, the original Book Club collection of 400 books had grown to over 6,000 volumes and subscriptions to thirty magazines.

Exterior view of the Kingsport Post Office building. The building has been home to the Kingsport Public Library since 1961.

In 1961, the library moved into what was formally the post office (built in 1925 and renovated for the library). Throughout this time the Book Club has continued to be a prominet organization in Kingsport.

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