Ethel Farquar McCollough was born in 1876 and raised in Franklin, Indiana. She was the first female director of a large city library system in Indiana and one of the first in the United States. McCollough graduated from Franklin College in 1901 and received her BLS (Bachelor of Library Science, a precursor to the MLS) from the New York State Library School. Prior to coming to Evansville, she was a librarian in Elwood, Indiana from 1904-1907 and in Superior, Wisconsin from 1907-1910. She was the 1910-1911 President of the Wisconsin Library Association and the 1913-1914 President of the Indiana Library Association.
“When Miss McCollough came to Evansville, on May 31, 1912, there were two library buildings under construction, but there were no books, no staff, and no place to work.” (1) By the time the two libraries opened to the public in 1913, they had a combined collection total of 5,527 books.
She persuaded the library board to approach Carnegie for additional funds for a library for the city’s black population. Cherry St. Branch opened November 24, 1914 with 2,800 books. It was the first library for African Americans north of the Ohio River. It operated until 1955, when it closed due to declining use; the library was integrated by that time.
During WWI, she served for several months with the ALA War Service Committee, organizing libraries for American soldiers on the Mexican border
Ms. McCollough was also responsible for overseeing the construction of Howell Branch Library (1927) and Central Library (1932). Central Library was designed by Walker and Weeks, a notable architectural firm out of Cleveland, Ohio. During the Depression and into the early 1940s, she worked with the Works Progress Administration Library Project in Indiana and helped incorporate WPA workers’ skills into the needs of the library.
Ms. McCollough regularly visited libraries in other cities to learn from their experience, a practice that is widely used to this day. Under her direction, the library expanded outreach services across the city and had several depositories inside local schools. In addition, she helped create a Bookmobile program to get books into the hands of people who could not come to the library in person.
Ethel McCollough retired from the library in 1947. She died in 1950 in Evansville. She is buried in Franklin, Indiana. (2) The EVPL McCollough location is named in her honor.
Born in Louisville Kentucky in 1889, Lillian Childress Hall was the first African American librarian in Indiana, the first African American to graduate from The Indiana Public Library Commission’s Summer School for Librarians (later became Indiana University’s School of Library and Information Science), and one of the first prominent African American librarians in the United States.
Mrs. Hall was promoted to Cherry Street Branch Librarian in 1915, and at that time was the first professional African American public librarian in Indiana. As the Head Librarian of the Cherry Street branch, her service was not confined to the library. Hall participated in outreach to the local African American community, helping those in need. She contributed to the aid of soldiers during WWI by enlisting the aid of local students and teachers to contribute to the War Fund.
She went on to work with the Indianapolis Public Library system, first as the Head Librarian of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Branch (1922) and in 1927 as the Head Librarian at Crispus Attucks High School, a new segregated high school (now integrated). She attended and presented at several conferences for African American librarians during her career. She retired from Attucks High School in 1956. She died in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1958. She is buried alongside her second husband in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. (3)
Margaret Kyle was a native of Massachusetts and a graduate of the Simmons College School of Library Science. She was hired as the McCollough Branch Librarian in 1973, made Assistant Director of EVPL in 1974. (4) Ms. Kyle helped usher in the new age of librarianship to the Evansville Library System. During her tenure, many strides were made in computerized automation of library functions, and the library began its incorporation of technology into practically every aspect of daily internal function. Still, Ms. Kyle was devoted to the most basic but important tenet of librarianship – access. As Assistant Director, Ms. Kyle developed major outreach programs that connected some of the community’s most underserved residents with library materials. She established services for the visually and auditorily impaired; pioneered a program for the delivery of materials to homebound individuals, and organized and oversaw the development and implementation of a Jail Library. She was also very active in providing seniors access to materials through work with the Lloyd Senior Center. (5)
Ms. Kyle retired in July 1985. She passed away in Evansville in 2002.
Mrs. Au is a native of Posey County, Indiana. In 1970, she graduated from Indiana University and then earned an MLS from University of Denver. She worked in libraries in Monroe County, MI, Phoenix, AZ, and Toledo, OH; she returned to southwestern Indiana in 1989 as Assistant Director under Director Ed Howard. Mrs. Au was named Director in 1995. (6) Under her leadership, the library officially became the “Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library” (EVPL – the word “county” was dropped) and undertook an ambitious 10-year building plan. While she was director, Mrs. Au directed the design and planning of new, state-of-the-art branches to replace the existing older, smaller Oaklyn and North Park locations. The new Oaklyn Branch opened in 2003; and the new North Park Branch opened in 2005. The largest project to take place under her leadership was the new (current) Central Library, located at 200 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It opened in 2004. (7)
Under Mrs. Au’s leadership, paraprofessional staff was expanded, and library technology was constantly updated and improved. More public computers were installed at all locations, and as technology improved, some streaming services and downloadable options became available in the collection. The library’s physical collections were expanded as well, with more copies of popular titles obtained and offered to the public to reduce waiting time, and more popular audio-visual materials were added to the collection, like audiobooks, movies, and music, in varying formats as technology quickly changed how customers viewed and used the library.
Mrs. Au was named a “Distinguished Hoosier” in 2009 and “Library Advocate of the Year” for 2010 by the Indiana Library Federation. She retired from EVPL in July 2015 and returned to lead the library as Interim Director for seven months in 2019 during the search for the current director, Scott Kinney.
Shannon G., EVPL’s Community History Librarian of Practice, contributed to this post.
Kate Linderman is the Community Knowledge Librarian of Practice. A life long reader and student of history, she also enjoys gardening, calligraphy and fluffy cat herding.
200 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd
Evansville, Indiana 47713