What is the Value of a Library?

“Milton Hermon (M.H.) King lost his father to typhoid pneumonia when he was eight. Until he was in the sixth grade, his schooling consisted of a few months of classes in a country school. When his family rented their farm and moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, he was enrolled in school full-time for two years. These were nine-month sessions. After he completed eighth grade, as was the tradition, he started working. His mother found him a good proprietor and he began an apprenticeship at a dry goods store eleven miles away. This was in 1889.”

Thus begins the family account of Lizabeth King’s grandfather, M.H., who in 1915 founded of King’s Variety Store in Burley, Idaho. M. H. King’s son, Hermon E. King, would expand the business to over thirty stores in six western states, primarily Idaho and Utah, and with his wife, Jean, make possible the construction of the King Fine Arts Center in Burley.

How was M.H. able to gain the knowledge that enabled him to start such a successful business? He tried to get as much information as possible from reading, mostly books and magazines from the public library. His reading always had a check mark where he laid it down to go to work, taking it up again when he had some spare moments. Lizabeth continued, “his struggle with and his persistence in educating himself by using libraries explained his keen interest in public libraries, where knowledge, in its many forms, was available to anyone who wanted it.” He, his wife Edith, all his children and his grandchildren were and are life-long learners, due in part to the example he set.

The King family has continued to support libraries, knowing how critical the public library was to their grandfather’s success. Jean King, wife of Hermon, served on the Burley Public Library board for many years. She was a member of the “greatest generation” – people who made possible the construction of the current Burley Public Library building in 1959. Hermon and Jean’s children still continue to support our local library, even though several have moved out of state.

Today some of us in the Mini-Cassia area are aware of how much we owe the King family for helping to build our community. All of us who attend the performances and other activites in the King Fine Arts Center know of its value. But we also need to recognize that we owe a debt to a public library somewhere in the Midwest that enabled M.H. King to advance his early education, and to the Burley Public Library where he continued his studies for the 36 years he lived in our community. With the education that came from public libraries, he established the business that started it all.

(Written by Kathleen Hedberg)

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