The Modern Travelers Club and the Albany Public Library

The Modern Travelers Club and the Albany Public Library

An interior shot of the adult book section in the Albany, Oregon Carnegie library. Provided by a member of the Albany Public Library Foundation Board.

By Barbara Krochta

In February 1898, a group of eight Albany women established a study club for the purpose of pursuing a “light course of study,” as well as pleasant social interaction with friends. The membership of the new Modern Travelers Club soon consisted of 30 women, who met in the homes of members. Each year, the club studied a particular country or region. In the first decades the programs covered a multitude of locations and cultures including Russia, England, Germany, Mexico, Egypt, and France. Since there was no public library at that time, researching for the information was a challenge. Although many families maintained extensive private libraries and the Albany College had resources, it was clear that Albany needed a community library, publicly supported and available to everyone.

At a Modern Travelers meeting in January 1907, a proposal was made regarding the establishment of a public library for Albany, and the Modern Travelers sought assistance from other clubs in the city. In September 1908 a public library was opened at the corner of West 2nd and Ferry Streets, where the Modern Travelers took over a reading room from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The library originally consisted of 40 books, eventually reached 1000 books, and was open three afternoons and evenings a week.

Between 1908 and 1914, Modern Travelers carried out fund-raising efforts, accumulating $1000. In 1910, Modern Traveler member Mrs. S. E. Young offered property at 3rd and Ferry Streets as a site for a public library for Albany. Andrew Carnegie gave the city of Albany $12,500, which was matched by donations from the citizens of Albany. The structure was completed in 1914 when the first book, a Bible, was carried into the building by Mrs. Young; 3,100 more books followed.

In 1935 formal recognition was given to Mrs. S. E. Young, her husband, and the Modern Travelers Club for their efforts in establishing a library, when a portrait of Andrew Carnegie was unveiled in the library along with a plaque honoring the Youngs and the Modern Travelers Club for their efforts.

The Modern Travelers Club is still active, and while some things have changed, others are similar to the experience of the founding members. The programs have become less structured but still include presentations on trips taken by members, as well as topics given by guest speakers and club members regarding Albany public services and Albany and Oregon history. The Modern Travelers Club still maintains an active interest in the Albany Public Library and supports the activities of the Albany Friends of the Library.  Modern Travelers is proud of their role in the history of Albany and the contribution that the library has made to the civic life of Albany for more than a century.

Steel industry magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie funded some 3000 libraries in 47 states, including 32 in Oregon. The Albany Carnegie Library is one of six that now remain as an operating library facility.

(Thanks to the Modern Travelers Club whose 2009 brochure provided much information for this article)