The website button for the anniversary blog features a century-old photo of a young woman, standing with her arms crossed and smiling into the camera. This is Ruth Colman, the first librarian of the Park Ridge Public Library. She was only about 19 when she was offered the job, thanks to her reputation for being extremely well-read (the kind of girl they called a bluestocking in those days) and after taking “a course in library work.”
“The board would appear to have made a splendid move in securing Miss Colman,” the local paper said. “She is careful, accommodating, and is well-acquainted with Park Ridge people.”
In fact it must have been a dream job for a girl with a passion for reading and an organizational mind – Ruth also taught Sunday school and sang in the choir, and when the Library was being built she and her sister Marie went around town, asking for book donations, which they then spent weeks cataloguing.
Despite the idea many people still have of librarians in the old days being pinched and severe, Ruth Colman was nothing like that: she liked the theatre and dreamed of bobbing her hair (eventually managing to persuade her father, who was opposed to the trend). Like her sister, she chose to go to work, in time serving as a business librarian for the Carnation Milk Company and the National Safety Council. She also pursued her dream of studying journalism at Northwestern University late in life, while working in the university library.
The Colman family lived first on Clinton Street and later at a house on Northwest Highway and Washington. Ruth walked from there to the Carnegie library every Tuesday and Saturday for seven years, working a total of 10 hours a week. This picture of the old library’s interior give you some idea of her environment. She organized materials, checked books in and out, and helped both adults and children in their reading. Because the town was still small and she knew almost everyone who came in the door, it was probably easy for Ruth to keep track of much of her job in her head.
In 1920 she passed the torch to Frances Holbrook, who would serve as librarian for the next 38 years. Under Frances the Park Ridge Public Library truly came into the modern age, adding a dedicated children’s area and developing Reference Services into a specific department. (Frances would also see the Library move into its present location in 1958.)
Unfortunately Ruth herself did not live to see that happen – always frail after a childhood bout with rheumatic fever, she became ill in the winter of 1946 and died in May of the following year.
Not long after starting here as the Information Coordinator, I came across the photo of Ruth Colman in the files and felt an immediate affinity for her – who would not like seeing that friendly face when you came inside the old library? It seemed an easy choice to make her a kind of unofficial mascot for the 100 Year Anniversary, since much of the small-town service she initiated still exists here, even as library services have grown far beyond anything she might have imagined.