The history of the archives and the library are inseparable, and their history is inseparable from the history of the congregation and the college – as both repositories are maintained by the Reformed Church of Kecskemet.
It all started more than 450 years ago, and while we have no accurate date regarding its founding, most records suggest that the library was founded in 1564 along with the college. Various elements of culture were transferred to Kecskemét by the congregation’s college, in which the reformation had a significant role by incentivizing schooling and education, encouraging reading, and preaching in Hungarian. Then in the 17th century the peregrination of the youth of Kecskemét (mostly to Vienna, Padua, Leyden and Kraków) catalysed this process as they would always bring new books back home. The very first record of the library belongs to caretaker András Bányai (1653), who mentions three books, while reporting the congregation’s valuables. In our Deed of Foundation we consider 1701 as our date of founding based on the very first official entry regarding the library (appearing in Leonard van Rijssen: Summa Controversiarum Theologicarum). Thus, our library is the oldest public library in the town. Students, professors, pastors and citizens (along with other donations) all contributed to increasing our library’s repertoire.
Our school was part of the Reformed College of Debrecen until the second half of the 18th century. The rectors were appointed by the mother institution, their books were used, and student exchanges took place. Due to the large number of books, in 1741 a new room was built for the library. In 1748, the congregation had 67 books.
The library’s scheduled development was managed by János Varjas, the first rector professor (1750), who used the fines collected from students to improve the library. From 1788 János Farkas was the rector for six years, who documented the entire archive consisting of 338 books at the time.
In 1715 István Kalocsa donated 30 books, then in 1794 pastor József Benkő donated 68 books to the college. Most likely it was the increase that necessitated building another library room. Meanwhile an ordnance room, a library and an auditorium were added to the renovated college building, where the Old College is found today. On the 10th of July, 1794, a great fire ravaged the entire town. Despite the measures done by pastor professor István Tóth, the majority of the collections were damaged or even lost. He had the books transferred to the basement and other safe locations.
The 19th century
After all these difficult times, the library was enriched by various beneficiaries. The widow of István Halasi Gózon (a previous rector of Kecsekmét) donated many of her husband’s books to the library in 1807. Countess Anna Podmanitszki, the widow to general Miklós Beleznai, also offered many antique Roman writings to the college library. The library owed a great debt of gratitude to the Teleki family. Count László Teleki bought Sámuel Szily’s (the former pastor of Némed) collections and donated them to the school. In 1813 attorney Péter Sátor left his library along with his coin collection to the school. István Nagy, chronicler of the library started his academic career in 1809. During his years in Kecskemét continuous development were carried out regarding the school and the library. It was during this time when the old collections went through a remarkable growth. Our congregation founded the library funds in 1818, contributing to the library’s planned developments and various quality improvements. The professor deserves a great deal of credit for assembling a catalogue of the collection representing 1341 books.
In 1820 the congregation’s leadership established a new library room. It received significant donations from bishop Gábor Báthory, István Nagy (Pest county’s town clerk), poet József Mátyási, and from pastor Sándor Szappanos. The latter’s efforts led to the town’s assembly elevating the school to academy rank in 1828. Then in 1830 they began building the Old College’s establishment, a beautiful reminder of Classical art standing to this very day, with the library on the first floor.
By then the congregation had many schools. The reformed school of Kecskemét could now operate as an academy along with the higher levels of classes, and the Old College could host trainings in legal philosophy and theology.
Pastor theologist István Hajnal left his library to the town in his will, but the town did not want to maintain it, and thus the rich library with its 2200 books was given to the congregation in 1851. Around this time the congregation bought the libraries belonging to physician Károly Sipos and legal academic István Dékány. According to Imre Csabay’s first professional catalogue (1851-1860) the library’s collection included 6300 works, from 11 different scientific fields.
In 1855 when the theology faculty was moved to Pest, the library of the faculty of law was separated. In 1890 the teacher Mihály Katonai and then in 1899 legal academic Károly Móricz were working on uniting the two libraries. Eventually, the presbitery accepted teacher Sándor Marton’s propositions.
By the time the Old College was completed, the building had become too small, and as such a decision had to be made whether to expand or move the school. The mayor Elek Kada helped the congregation by donating a parcel of the Old College’s site to the congregation.
In 1907 after the presbitery’s resolution, the congregation became the managing authority of the library instead of the school, and the schools’ libraries were united as the Academic Library, and during this time the idea of becoming a public library was also considered. It became a reality in 1908 thus our library became Kecskemét’s very first public library.
In 1912, when the building of the Old College was finished, the library was moved to a properly equipped (by today’s standards) room with iron shelves. Our predecessors had the same concept regarding the division of the library as it is today with three divisions: reading-room, studying room and a storage (224 m2).
During the 1925/26 academic year Sándor Marton started reorganizing the library. Academic teacher András Tatay’s daughter Erzsébet donated 224 works to the library in 333 volumes. This time the collection was 22001 works in 35204 volumes with a worth of 600 million crowns. On the 16th of August, 1931 the name of „Academic Library” was changed to „The library of the Reformed College” by the suggestion of the Library Committee. In 1934 the congregational committee introduced a resolution barring borrowing books from the library for the use at home, and books could only be used within the library with oversight. The library’s arrangement is owed to librarians, Sándor Marton and Béla Kiss. In 1940, after the passing of Sándor Marton teacher Tamás Soós was entrusted with the library duties.
Both world wars’ devastations left their scars on the library and its collections. In 1950 Béla Tollas emeritus pastor became responsible for organizing and restoring the library’s contents. The nationalization of this institution in 1948 with its long history was a great loss for the reformed congregation. The collections suffered the greatest loss because a remarkable number of books were confiscated. Only those documents survived that had the congregation’s seal on them, and these constitute our current collection’s basic groundwork.
During the presbiterian assembly on the 17th of Feburary in 1952 pastor Endre Tóth reported that the Assembly of the Church District had requested the congregation of Kecskemét to deliver the various book and script collections that became the property of the congregation after the nationalization of the school to the Ráday Library for keeping.
The presbitary determined that the library’s collections always belonged to the congregation of Kecskemét and they did not become the property of the congregation after the nationalization. The majority of the youth library was destroyed. The presbitery bestowed the old works of the congregation’s library (while retaining property rights) upon the Ráday Library, according to the inventory report.
In 1953 the congregation’s archives were declared to be admitted to the archives of the Church District and were intended to be taken to Budapest. The presbitery wanted to keep the entire archives within its care and was willing to cover its costs.
The library of the Reformed College of Kecskemet remained the property of the Congregation of Kecskemet, as the deposit library of the Ráday Library in Kecskemét.
The library’s rare and valuable works from the 16th and 17th centuries were deposited in the Ráday library. Emeritus Pastor Béla Tollas was given the task to manage the library and the archives as he had been doing it previously. In 1959 the library regained its independence and ceased to be the part of the Ráday Library.
During transition era the leadership of the Reformed Church decided to reopen the school in 1990 and that meant a new era for the library as well. Just a few years later the boarding school became operational along with the elementary school and the convictorium.
The 21st century
By God’s grace the New College building complex was completed by 2004, thus it all finally became full „square”, also serving as the spot for our library.
After its reopening the library came under direct control of the College’s body, its leader being the Board Director at all times. After 2010 this organizational structure was changed, since the college title no longer applied and the congregation was also reorganized, and thus the collections now are under the control of the administrative president in office.
It serves as a basis library since many member libraries (of the elementary school, the high school, the boarding school, Sion Ház, Pálmácska kindergarden) belong to this institution.
Staff changes also contributed to the various developments in our library’s progress over the years. Mrs. Adorján Imréné (1965-1999) had been leading the library for a long time, acting as a librarian alongside her work as a pastor and theologian.
The new catalogues of the library’s collections is her legacy, along with processing the RMK (Old Hungarian Library) collections and establishing a manuscript catalogue.
Minister Zsuzsanna Szabó took over the library between 1999-2007. During her management the staff increased from 2 to 3 personnel and through various projects the development of the library began. Currently there are 5 full-time, qualified staff members with professional field expertise cooperating the various librarian, archivist and collector duties.
We have been a public library since 2004. It was not easy to adapt to the conditions of being a public library since the management is entirely liable for the various operations. Our main goal was to modernize our services and increase the number of visitors.
We have organized and planned exhibitions using the various folding screens, display cases and shelves found int he main hall. We have created an exhibition from scripts, songbooks, Bibles, rare and valuable books and maps found in the tower, and created memorial tours for István Szegedi Kis, Zoltán Gárdonyi, Michael de Ruyterre, László Ravasz, József Mátyási, János Kálvin and many ministers who served us previously. There has also been an anniversary exhibition regarding our College, and a semi-centenary exhibition for the 1956 revolution along with an anniversary of our 325 years old church.
The various renovations and expansions within the building in the last 10 years were necessary in order to offer our visitors a modernized and extended space.
In the reading-room for instance we have created a greater shelf-system for the handbooks. In 2007 through an international project we had the opportunity to initiate a greater development.
Instead of the old cement and PVC floor a brand new industrial-level laminated floor was introduced throughout the entire library. We could also replace the old (almost 40 years old) switches and our storage was upgraded with an automated access control system. In 2009 during the renovation of the street front the patio belonging to the library was repaired. Following a flooding in 2016, the entire reading-room and the study room were completely renovated. The entire electric circuitry as well as the internet was basically reinstalled, and the reading room received a new laminated floor, and the paintwork was redone in many rooms.
Through an integrated program called SZIKLA-21 specifically created for school libraries in 1999, newly received documents have been processed continuously since then. Each archive of every member library is electronically documented thus one can now borrow a book online. Innovations take place every year and managing inventory records on paper were suspended and replaced electronic recording. Nowadays every document receives a barcode, a unified signature seal, and the front pages and covers are scanned for the online catalogue. Since 2013 publishing has also been a part of our profile. This means that every year we have to design and create 4-5 journals for the congregation and the Bács-Kiskunsági Reformed Diocese. Furthermore, we also design and create official invitations, billboards, booklets and flypapers. One of our most important tasks is to maintain art collections belonging to the congregation.