'A palace for the people': Library director talks expansion

The new addition to the Madison Count Public Library Richmond Branch has transformed the once single story space into a three-floor structure.

Libraries are pillars of communities.

They are places where people foster a love of learning.

However, libraries weren’t always so prevalent.

In the 1980s, Madison County was without a library.

The community was at odds debating whether or not the town should have one.

The story of the struggle to bring a public library into Madison County is the plot of Stuart Tobin’s new book, "The Bookworm and The Serpent."

Tobin came to Madison County after he was discharged from the army in 1977.

He has lived in Richmond ever since.

Tobin was a physician and dermatologist for a third of a century. He was later recruited by the University of Kentucky to become the chief of their dermatology division, which he served for 10 years.

After retirement, Tobin has been working part-time for the Veteran’s Affairs hospital in Lexington with his fellow veterans.

However, this history, Tobin said, is not the story that matters.

Instead, the history which matters, ishow he helped to lead and orchestrate the movement to create a public library for Madison County in the 1980s.

“How does one say thank you to a community that has given you so much and made your life so full and enriched,” Tobin asked.

He said when he got involved with the movement to bring a public library to Madison County, he didn’t know where the road was going to take him. However, he had grown up in a community, not in Kentucky, and had library services as a child. Tobin siad the library services helped to form his hopes and aspirations to learn and to be educated.

“You can get any type of education you want, be it technical, intellectual, entertaining, you can get it from your public library,” Tobin said. He went on to say Thomas Jefferson had said the library was the average citizen’s university.

“This is one of the basic foundations of American education and culture, so it needs to be supported, it needs to exist, and it needs to thrive,” Tobin said.

His history with libraries and the passion they could instill made Tobin want to get involved. However, he had no idea it would turn out to be such a contentious and polarizing issue in the community.

In 1980, there was a ballot to be voted on.

On the ballot was the option to vote for, or against, a library tax.

The rejection of this library tax, Tobin said, led to a sequence of events which “ignited the passions of reactionary conservatism.”

He said there was a novel attempt to raise adequate private funds to support a public library. Those who wished to have the public library exist, then started a quest to acquire a donated building from the federal government to serve as a library facility. According to Tobin, the final and most controversial and heated chapter was the pursuit to enact a property tax to support the library services.

“This issue brought out the best and courageous as well as the worst and inglorious in people,” Tobin said.

Tobin went on to say the iconic symbol for the group who were fighting to bring a public library to Madison County, a symbol which made it to the front page of the book — was the bookworm. The bookworm was then put next to the opposition's characterization, “the snake which needed to be crushed and destroyed.”

1987 became the pivotal and crucial year to pass a tax to be sure the community could support the library movement.

That year, Tobin said his group knew they had won, and Madison County would finally have a public library. Tobin himself served as the very first chairman of the library’s board for 10 years.

This book has been something Tobin has wanted to write for quite some time.

However, he said he had been far too busy with life to get everything written out just how he wanted. Now that he is retired, Tobin had the time to write the story, and he wants the world to know Madison County's story and how it fought to get its very first public library.

“If this story doesn’t get out, people won’t realize what they have in this county,” Tobin said. “The value of their (the library’s) services will lessen. It shouldn’t be taken for granted because it was quite a struggle to initiate our library services.”

Tobin’s book is available for purchase now. If anyone is interested in knowing more about the struggles many faced here in Madison County to get the county’s first public library, they can directly contact Tobin. His email is stuarttobin@bellsouth.net.

The book retails for $19.95, along with the six percent Kentucky sales tax as well as shipping and handling.

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