LIMA — Georgie G. McAfee started her life in Kentucky, sharpened her skills in Indiana but really came into her own in Ohio.
McAfee first came to Lima in 1924 to work at the city’s Carnegie library at McDonel and Market streets. The library had opened in 1908.
Just prior to her arrival, a newspaper story published July 9, 1924, shows the tone of the library, which was then operated by the schools: “Members of the school board asserted that the library is becoming more and more useful to scholars and stated that during coming years many courses will require the use of the library.”
McAfee was announced later that summer in an Aug. 7, 1924, story.
“Miss Georgie McAfee, Evansville, Ind., will be the new librarian at the Lima Carnegie Library and will assume her duties Monday, it was announced by Mrs. Kent Hughes Thursday. … Extension of the library into all parts of the city and the county is contemplated by the trustees as soon as it is possible to make the necessary arrangements. It was partially this plan that caused the trustees to select Miss McAfee for the post. At Evansville, she whas been in charge of the extension department of the library and had 10 fulltime assistants working with her.”
She had been at Evansville eight years, the story reported.
Martha Gamble, who had been librarian, was promoted to business administrator.
McAfee did not waste time. By the end of August, she was already in the newspaper again. She reported books on the stars and solar system were flying off the shelves because Mars was visible at the time. This was the beginning of a pattern for McAfee, tying current events into the library’s usefulness.
Another pattern was pushing the library out in the community. A “station” of the library was opened at South High School in 1924.
““The station is an example of the new type of school-community library. It is to be open to the comunity two nights a week, according to Miss McAfee. Located on the east end of the new addition, facing Pine St., it will have plenty of natural light. It has both outside and inside entrances,” a Sept. 26, 1924, story reported.
“Cards and pockets for all books are being typewritten by the older students in the typewriting classes at South under the supervision of Miss Ethel Styles, typwriting instructor, Miss Helen Meredith, English teacher, and Miss McAfee,” an Oct. 19, 1924, story reported.
Also that year came another facet of McAfee’s personality. Not only did she speak with reporters, she spoke with the community. She is reported as speaking on the importance of books in the development of children’s minds at the Lima Federation of Women’s Clubs. (Also on the agenda for that meeting was the push to get women to the polls for the first time in the country’s history.)
McAfee spoke frequently at club meetings and the like, eager to share the library with Lima citizens of all incomes and job descriptions. She mentioned topics in the news, explained how the library worked and promoted its various efforts to enrich lives. She made clear the library was the community’s, but the community needed to support it, as well. The library’s slogan during this era was, “A book for every reader, and a reader for every book.”
She also planned story hours for children her first year in town, centered on Children’s Book Week.
“This is a national movement, the object of which is to foster in the child love and appreciation for good books, and to help build up the child’s character through the reading of these books,” a story reported Nov. 16, 1924.
In 1925, she offered a storytime for girls to which they were encouraged to bring their dolls and carriages. She planned to speak on toys in other countries.
After the opening of the branch at South, McAfee pushed for a branch at Irving school, called North Side Station. From there, she opened branches far and wide. Some of the “branches” were little more than book loans, like to city firemen and the 90 switchboard girls at the telephone company. But the idea stuck, and the branches we know today are directly related.
McAfee didn’t rest easy after accomplishing a goal. She kept pushing.
“The library is receiving far more demands for books than it can supply, and the library’s resources have not increased in proportion to the demands of its citizens. The income received in 1932 was only 43 percent of a normal budget,” she is reported as saying in a Jan. 22, 1933, story. She urged citizens to donate book from their personal collections.
In 1930, The Lima News began offering a book listing to help residents decide what they’d like to read.
McAfee was noticed in the library world. She spoke frequently at conventions and meetings — both domestic and abroad — even serving for a year as president of the Ohio Library Association.
But she would come home and start working again on the next project: the Bookmobile. Superior Body Co. built the library its first vehicle in 1938. It had a capacity of 2,000 books that could be easily taken to the people. It began a regular schedule of visits to 17 county schools that fall. County outliers scrambled for a branch, with Cairo, Gomer, Spencerville, Elida and Lafayette asking at once. Gomer won the prize of the first county branch in 1939.
The Bookmobile even offered summer service, bringing books around the county during the long days when school wasn’t in session.
She also is credited with implementing the library’s memorial book plan, staff housing and trustees endowment fund.
McAfee was seemingly tireless, only taking time from her schedule to travel abroad. But even then, she would return to town and give a talk on her trips — Mexico, the Vatican, Hong Kong, even the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. She had an eye for antiques, also, and her collection turned into a little antique shop she called The Closet Shop, which she ran out of her home. In her retirement years, she focused on this hobby.
She retired in 1950 after 26 years as head of the library system.
“The story of Miss McAfee’s years of service in Lima is the story of the library’s growth from a single building, the present main library, erected in 1908, and a staff of three, to the present city-county system of 20 branch libraries and 30 fulltime employees. Under her guidance and leadership, the library has grown with the community and added to its services until it now circulates more than 5,000 books annually and has more than 22,000 patrons registrered in city and county,” a June 13, 1950, story reported.
Although retired, McAfee gave her support to the project to construct the current library building.
“Librarians don’t consider their work as a job of profession. It is their service, their contribution to society. And when their building no longer can provide for the services librarians wish to give, it’s time for a change,” she said just before the public voted on the bond issue that would fund the project. When ground was broken in 1959, she was given a honorary shovel to use.
McAfee died in 1981 and was buried with family in Kentucky.