Library History Book

Today, The Altoona Area Public Library is a respected institution that serves as the District Center for libraries in Blair, Bedford, and Huntingdon Counties. It is housed in its own building and offers a variety of programs and services to its patrons. Children can come and browse through volumes in the youth room, students can access the Internet to obtain information from far-off places, adults can enjoy recorded books, and families can enjoy watching DVDs rented at an affordable cost with their library cards. The Altoona Area Public Library has come a long way from its origins approximately 139 years ago. For the 139 years of the existence of a library in Altoona residents have supported the library services in their community, although those services were not always at the same location.

The first library in Altoona was established in 1858, but the library has had five locations, all within a few miles of each other. Altoona can boast of having maintained a library in a ticket office, hotel, church, and a school, and at each location the public flocked to make use of the facility. The collection of the Altoona Area Public Library has been moved many times, making its history a true book walk.

The first library to be established in Altoona was the Mechanics’ Library and Reading Room Association under the supervision of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). The PRR established it as a technical library for its workers and housed it in a ticket office. The library was based on membership and charged a small fee for use. The collection soon grew far too large for its small quarters, and it was moved to the Logan House. It was moved from that location to a former Presbyterian Church on Eleventh Avenue. The Mechanics’ Library would have enjoyed a prosperous life at the church if the building had not been in such disrepair. By the 1920’s, it was obvious that a new structure had to be found to house the library.

The PRR started to look for an organization to house and maintain the collection of books and to oversee the conversion of the Mechanics’ Library into a free public library. They found that organization in the Altoona Area School District. The collection of the Mechanics’ Library was moved into the Roosevelt Junior High School building in the late 1920’s. The solution was expected to be temporary, but after 40 years the move appeared to be permanent. The Mechanics’ Library had been converted to a free public library and disassociated from the PRR.

In the 1960’s, several community groups with support from the school board began the first successful movement to obtain an independent structure for the Altoona Area Public Library. In 1968, the building at 1600 Fifth Avenue was erected. The first building for the sole purpose of housing a public library collection was thus created for the people of Altoona.

This is the history of the creation of the Altoona Area Public Library from its humble beginnings of a room atop a ticket office to the three-story, fully-equipped structure that stands today; It is a story of the movement of a valued collection and also a story of the people and place that made it so unique.

Library History Book (PDF)10.16 MB