In 1956 the American Library Association issued a report stating that the existence of a discrete library system was impractical if the population it served was less than 50,000. This report came at a time when many cities across America were beginning to question maintaining separate library systems for black and white citizens. The population served by the Stanford L. Warren Library and its branches failed to reach the benchmark. Discussions of a merger of the black and white library systems in Durham began and would continue for the next ten years.
In 1963 the city of Durham hired Emerson Greenaway, executive director of the Philadelphia public library system, to evaluate Durham’s public libraries and their administration. [Related Link] His study revealed a number of shortcomings in the administration of Durham’s public libraries—not enough funding, not enough staff, an insufficient building for the white system’s main library and an unnecessary duplication of spending and effort resulting from the existence of two distinct library systems. Many of his recommendations went into effect within several years of the study’s conclusion—including the merger of the two systems, in 1966.
The board of the Stanford L. Warren Library agreed to the merger on several conditions. First, the new library system would have to purchase the land on which the Stanford Warren and Bragtown libraries were located, and the name Stanford L. Warren would stay on the library. Second, the board wanted a bond election to be held to raise money for a new main library. Last, the boards of the two systems would be dissolved and a new board created that included six members from each of the old boards. The board’s conditions were met, the libraries merged and the Stanford L. Warren Library became a branch of the new system.
At Greenaway’s urging the library hired a new director, George Linder, in 1965. Linder was hired specifically to guide the process of merging the two library systems and to serve as director of the new, unified Durham City-County Library System. Ray Moore, the longtime head librarian at the Stanford L. Warren Library, was appointed assistant director of the unified system. Margret Whisenton, Stanford L. Warren’s extension librarian, was appointed head of extension services for the new system, a position which involved supervision of all library branches. The unified technical services and extension services departments were moved to the Stanford L. Warren branch. Annie M. Tucker became branch librarian at Stanford L. Warren in 1973.
The years immediately after the two library systems merged were difficult. Library facilities in Durham had been inadequate for years, and the challenge of combining systems added another obstacle to the provision of high-quality service. The Stanford Warren Library building suffered from neglect throughout the 1970s, and by the end of the decade it was badly in need of attention. Circulation had decreased dramatically. The branch was dealt a serious blow in 1980, when the new Main Library opened fewer than two miles away. The future of the branch had to be addressed. Many people in Durham’s African-American community were afraid that it would be closed, erasing a vital piece of their history. Fearing controversy, library administrators were reluctant to close it.
The library board appointed a committee to study the problem in 1983. The committee, headed by Constance Watts (daughter of Lyda Merrick and granddaughter of Aaron Moore and John Merrick), conducted a study of the population served by the library. Finding that it included a high percentage of children, working women and senior citizens, they sought to reshape the library’s role to address the needs of those demographics. The committee then held a series of well-attended public meetings where community members made suggestions for improving the branch and ensuring its longevity. As a result of these meetings, a Friends of the Library organization was formed to support the Stanford Warren branch. A plan was developed to implement improvements that included renovating the building, improving the book collection, expanding the branch’s children’s services and striving to increase community awareness of and engagement with the library. The Friends and members of the library’s administration approached county officials to ask for funds for a renovation in 1984. Officials agreed and appropriated $245,000 for the project. The branch closed briefly, then reopened in 1985 with a new branch manager, Shirley Brown, expanded services and improved facilities.