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Sugar House Journal

Staff, patrons celebrate beloved Sprague library’s 90 years

Jun 29, 2018 15h17 ● By Jana Klopsch

Sprague library today. Notice the sugar beet sculpture in front. (Lawrence Linford/City Journals)

By Lawrence Linford | [email protected]

A quart of milk cost 14 cents, flappers were dancing the Charleston and the twenties would soon lose their roar when the Sprague Library opened on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 1928, at 7:30 p.m.

To celebrate 90 years of service the Sprague library staff threw a party on June 9, a hot sunny day, on the patio behind the library from about 12 to 2 p.m. The staff set up two tents with chairs to shelter guests. A third tent protected three large and delicious white cakes from the sun. Cold water and popsicles, also provided, cooled guests.

After finishing a slice of cake, Judy Bell, a guest at the party recalled coming to Sprague in 1945. Unlike today, back then the children’s library had a separate entrance.

“When I was 5, there were stairs on the side over there leading to the children’s library, and I would go down and have reading time every Saturday morning,” Bell said. “That’s what you did.”

Dax Hansen was attending the party with his two small kids, Olive and Jack. Hansen remembered taking the bus down to visit Sprague and the Sugar House shops, about 16 years ago, during his high school years.

“I’ve always loved Sprague,” he said. “I always thought, ‘Wow, what an awesome building.’ When it flooded (last July), it was almost like a death in the family.”

Sprague is a high-gabled English Tudor-style building and was selected in 1935 as the “most beautiful branch library in America,” by the American Library Association. The main room’s high ceilings, and large windows give it a light and airy feel.

“A lot of patrons think it was a church,” said Heather Schoenfeld, a librarian at Sprague since 1986. But it was built to be a library.

Hansen’s wife, Lauren, also works at Sprague. “It’s her dream job to be working at Sprague; she calls it her BAE (short for ’before anyone else’),” he said gently laughing. “And the programs they do for kids kind of drew us in.”

At the party, next to Sprague’s rear entrance there was a toy and activity area. Plastic blocks, connecting plastic train parts and softer building blocks were off to one side and a pastel hopscotch course was nearby.

But the main attraction was the slime-making station.

Stephanie Howell, the teen services librarian at Sprague, was busily helping aspiring young slime-makers. First, the kids would pick a color, then Howell would get out what looked like Play-Doh, place it in a bowl and let the kids dig their fingers into it as she added water—hopefully making it more slimy and disgusting. The kids were in paradise.

At the other end of the patio, volunteer Amy Robinson was in charge of a large multicolor wheel with the words “spin to win” in the middle. Kids spun the wheel, and depending on where it landed, they won a prize such as a flexi-pencil or sticky hand. Robinson discouraged some small customers eager to keep spinning and spinning.

Lisa Grant, the children’s librarian, was kindly giving out pieces of cake (the first cake was gone in about 45 minutes). She, like other Sprague librarians, talked about the generational bond some patrons have with Sprague. Like Hansen, they grew up with Sprague and now they’re bringing their kids to the library too.

“It’s so nice to have those connections with our library through the generations,” said Grant.

Spooky encounters

“Yes, they’re ghosts, but they’re friendly,” said Schoenfeld. Then after a few moments, “although there was one time,” laughed Schoenfeld, “when they weren’t so friendly.”

About 15 years ago, “A co-worker and I came in to do some extra work, so the building was closed,” Schoenfeld recalled. “Since we were aware that there were strange noises and stuff, we brought the TV up from the meeting room. So we could turn it up loud, so we wouldn’t hear anything.”

They had left the meeting room’s heavy glass doors open in the basement. “All of a sudden, they just slammed shut, like angry—I mean they were shaking,” said Schoenfeld nervously laughing. “We said, ‘Well, it’s starting to get dark; maybe we should go home.’”

“Then she (Schoenfeld’s co-worker) went into the restroom, and I was waiting for her,” Schoenfeld said. “And all of a sudden, I started to hear footsteps coming up the stairs, and so man we were out of there.”

Around the same time, two groups came to investigate possible ghosts at Sprague. One group didn’t find anything, though Schoenfeld was skeptical “they were four guys in their 20s; they set up their equipment and then just talked and laughed the rest of the time.”

A second group, led by a doctor, did discover something intriguing. He put a pair of shoes on the floor exactly parallel to each other. Then he said, “If anyone is here, we’re going downstairs, and please try to move these shoes.” When his group returned, the shoes were turned toe to toe.

Update on future renovations, ongoing and upcoming events              

The Sprague renovations planned for this fall will likely be delayed until January. It’s unclear if the library will remain open during the construction.

“An architect has been chosen, but we’re in negotiations,” said Heather Hart, the new manager of Sprague. Once the contract is signed, there will be about a seven-month design and planning period before construction begins.

“We are actively looking for retail space,” said Hart about an alternative space if the library is closed during construction. “We know there’re areas here; people keep suggesting the old D.I. building. We are hoping to find something at a free or discounted rate to offset costs, because that’s not something that we planned for.”

The Sprague library has many ongoing and upcoming summer activities and events including the summer reading challenge with activities called “Strike a Chord” this year (with prizes), a summer concert series and other events for kids, teens and adults. Visit the Sprague calendar of events online or visit the Sprague library at 2131 South 1100 East in Salt Lake City for more information.