Holyoke Public Library

Holyoke Public Library

      In 1870, three years before Holyoke was incorporated and when its population was but 10,000, the Public Library was established. The first meeting called to effect organization was attended by over fifty citizens and the list of their names would read as an almost complete roll-call of the families prominent in the early history of Holyoke, and still honored, many of them, not alone for their past services to the city but as well for their representatives living among us today. Those whose names were recorded as officers and committeemen of the preliminary organization were William Whiting, Rev. J.L.R. Trask. Moses Newton, Henry A. Chase, George W. Prentiss, J.S. Webber, Charles H. Lyman, Oscar Ely, W.B.C. Pearsons, Timothy Merrick, C.B. Prescott, Chalmers Chapin, W.S. Loomis, C.P. Chase, J.S. McElwain, J.P. Buckland, John E. Chase, R.B. Johnson.
      Before permanent organization was effected a communication was received "with great enthusiasm" from J. C. Parsons, as treasurer of the Parsons Paper Company, offering to furnish a lot and building worth $20,000, provided an equivalent amount could be raised for books and other equipment. The committee appointed to solicit subscriptions labored strenuously only to discover that the mark set was much too high for the little town in the day of its beginning. This was a severe disappointment, but, nothing daunted, the founders laid new plans, and without delay, secured their charter from the state, perfected permanent organization, raised over $3,000, and petitioned the town government for the use of suitable quarters in a public building and for such pecuniary support as it could give. A promising nucleus for the new library was obtained through the gift of about twelve hundred volumes from the Lyman Mills, the Hadley Company, the Hampden Mills, and the Y.M.C.A., and of $500 from the Parsons Paper Company.
      The first home of the library was in a room in the Appleton street school building. In 1876 it was removed to the large central room on the main floor of the City hall, now divided and occupied by the Gas and Electric and Water departments. This was described by the secretary in his annual report for that year as "a beautiful and commodious room," and such, no doubt, it was for the library at that stage of its history. The library, however, remained in that room full twenty-five years, and long before that time had elapsed its quarters were so congested that normal development in line with the modern public library movement was greatly retarded.
      For fifteen years the institution was not strictly a free library, all users of it being assessed one dollar a year. In 1886, in consideration of an increase in the appropriation from the city, the fee was dropped, and the library became actually free to every responsible resident of the city. As a result its patronage increased in one year from 441 users to 2,075, and the number of books loaned from 18,835 to 44,655.

Miss Sarah Ely
Miss Sarah Ely

      In the memory of all who were patrons of the during the first thirty years of its history, a very essential and integral part of the institution was the personality of its librarian Miss Sarah Ely, a member of an old and honored Holyoke family, and a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary, was peculiarly adapted to the work to which the library trustees invited her. She was endowed with rich gifts of mind and graces of character which enabled her to grasp with ready understanding and sympathy the wants of the library's patrons and supply them to the fullest possible extent under trying limitations. For many years she had the able assistance and the public the valued services of Miss Lizzie Perry and Mrs. E. A. Whiting.
      In 1897 came a change in the library's prospects. The Holyoke Water Power Company offered the gift of the city block, bounded by Maple, Essex, Chestnut and Cabot streets, on condition that a sum of money sufficient for a suitable building be raised within three years. A committee with W. S. Loomis as chairman was appointed to secure subscriptions. The bulk of this heavy task fell upon the chairman, and Mr. Henry A. Chase, up to that time the only secretary and treasurer the library had had. Their prolonged and earnest labors resulted in a subscription fund of over $95,000. The first subscriptions received were two of $10,000 each, from Mr. William Whiting and Mr. William Skinner. This generosity on the part of these leading citizens evoked the same spirit throughout the city, so that contributions were received from several hundred persons, even the school children responding with enthusiasm to the general appeal. Architect James A. Clough offered his services in the preparation of plans without charge, desiring to do this in honor of his daughters. His offer was accepted, and Mr. Clough gave unstintingly of his time and skill for the study of modern practice in library construction, and of the specific problem before him in Holyoke. The result was a building at once well adapted to its practical ends and a chaste and enduring ornament to the city. Mr. Frank Dibble was the builder selected, and the workmanship throughout the structure has proved to be above criticism to this time.
      Miss Ely, on account of her health, desired to be relieved of her work before the reorganization incident to moving the library into its new and larger quarters should be undertaken. Her successor, the present librarian, was elected and began his service in the summer of 1900. The library was moved to the new building in February, 1902. New systems of classification and cataloging of the library, registration of borrowers, and circulation of books, all of which were impracticable in the old quarters because of lack of room and proper facilities, were adopted. A separate children's department was inaugurated, and ample provision made in large separate rooms for periodical reading and for reference study. Here for the first time the library was open to the public in the mornings, and certain restrictive regulations, which seemed no longer requisite, were dropped, including the twelve-year age limit, the restriction of the borrower to but one book at a time, and the two-week time-limit on books other than fiction.
      One of the marked advantages of the library's new home was that it made practicable free access of the public to the main floor of the book room and so to the books themselves. This greatly increases the satisfaction of many users of the library, since they are able often to help themselves at once to the desired book without dependence upon catalog or attendant, or to examine and select such works as best meet their needs or tastes.
      The work of the library rapidly expanded under the improved conditions. There were more active cardholders using the library in the first four years after its removal than in the previous thirty years, and in five years the circulation had increased 100 per cent. Since that time the growth of the work has been for tile most part normal and continuous. One hundred and fifteen thousand volumes were loaned during the past year. The book collection has increased from 20,000 to nearly 50,000 volumes, and the present shelving in the building is now practically full. The city meanwhile has met the requirements of the larger work by increased appropriations. For recent years the annual appropriation has been $15,000, and this, with the exception of a small fund from fines, constitutes the entire income of the library.
      The long periods of disinterested service of the library by many of Holyoke's most honored citizens, make up a part of its history which should not be forgotten. Mr. William Whiting, having been one of the original founders of the library and. even before the founding, an ardent promoter of the project, was made its first president, and held that office through a period of forty years, to the close of his life. Besides giving liberally for the new building, he served as chairman of the building committee.

Henry A. Chase
Henry A. Chase

      Mr. Henry A. Chase was also one of the active organizers of the library, and held the offices of secretary and treasurer and membership on the executive committeefrom the beginning until his death in 1905. His interest in and service of the library was at all times unstinted. His work with Mr. W. S. Loomis in soliciting subscriptions for the building fund has already been mentioned. Mr. Loomis, another of the founders, has been on the executive committee from the start and most of the time as its chairman. in which capacity he still serves the institution which has been one of the abiding interests in his active and varied life.
      Mr. James H. Newton, a member of the board of directors from the date of organization, has been the president of the library since the death of Mr. Whiting. Mr. C. W. Rider is the successor of Mr. Chase in the office of treasurer and on the executive committee. For many years previous to his recent death Mr. William H. Heywood rendered the library most faithful service on the executive committee. His successor is Mr. Reuben Winchester.
      On the book committee the library in past days profited greatly by the broad culture and sound judgment of Judge E. W. Chapin, Judge H. L. Sherman, Principal H. B. Lawrence, and Mr. William A. Prentiss. With Mr. Chapin and Mr. Prentiss are now associated Mrs. James H. Newton and Mr. F. S. Webber.
      In 1903 the library was the recipient of a large and rare collection of Indian stone implements, which had been purchased from its collector, Mr. Sherman of Springfield, with a fund raised by the Holyoke Scientific Association, as a result of persistent efforts by Prof. J.T. Draper of the High school, Architect W.J. Howes, Dr. G.A. Maxfield, and others.
      Two years later a valuable collection of butterflies, moths and beetles came into possession of the library, through the sole agency of Mr. Joseph Chase, who solicited money for the purchase and himself laboriously remounted, classified and labelled the specimens.
      Thus one of the library's two exhibition rooms has been well filled. The other is reserved to be used as an art museum, of which Holyoke has as yet scarcely a beginning. Material needs have indeed been more pressing and deserve the larger support, but it is a marked deficiency for a city of the size and prosperous condition of Holyoke to be without art collections of any description. Such attractions are not mere luxuries but react very definitely upon the standard of culture of the people, refining their tastesand elevating their amusements. The life of our city is suffering today for the want of such cultural influences. The art room in the library now contains three oil paintings. It can accommodate a hundred. Adjacent to and owned by the library is a large vacant plot of ground offering ample room for a separate museum and art building. But these finer things will hardly be found in our City Beautiful until a vital an(l growing interest in them is in evidence. Those who may contribute by gifts or by personal influence to this cause in its early days will build for the future better than they can know in the present.
      The library has developed some special departments of late years. One in a separate room for the use of the medical profession and nurses was inaugurated by a gift of $250 from the Holyoke Medical Association. Another is a special collection of several thousand volumes for circulation through and use in the public school grades. The library is also building up its foreign language department in order that those residents of the city who are not fluent readers of English may none the less have a fair share in the educational and other advantages of an institution which, perhaps beyond all others, is competent and should strive to benefit all the people without regard to age, sect, race, class, or other distinction.
      For the future, the time will come, as the city continues to grow, and especially as it extends from time to time its boundaries, when more extensive agencies than are now used will be necessary to serve all the districts adequately. For hundreds of American libraries such development has been rendered possible through benefactions, for endowments or for buildings, by public spirited citizens, and we may confidently expect that our library will not be less fortunate, and that the citizens of the future will be as responsive to the new needs as those of a decade ago were to the need of an adequate and beautiful building.
      The children's department deserves separate consideration. Under the conditions that prevailed in the old City hall quarters the best that could be done was to allot a corner for the juveniles. In the new building light roomy quarters were provided. and the thousands of volumes of the juvenile class arranged in low-tiered bookshelves around it. Here on the stormy and colder evenings of the year from fifty to one hundred or more children congregate, reading by the excellent light afforded, and the greater part of them taking home books to read when they leave.
      Methods to stimulate good reading in preference to the trashy kind sold in cheap paper prints are employed. One successful method in use for a time was to furnish a list of books for vacation reading, giving a certificate to those who had read a certain number on the list.
      Story telling was introduced by Miss Sophia Eastman of South Hadley some years ago. This has proved of such value that it has been continued since. Mrs. James Allen and others have recounted many tales to eager listeners, the usual hour chosen being on Saturday forenoons.
      From time to time photographs from a loan organization, illustrating the most interesting and picturesque parts of the globe, are shown.
      Keeping patrons informed as to matters of current interest is considered to be one of the functions of the modern library. So on occasion of great news interest, as an earthquake in the tropics, revolution in China, etc., the library quickly puts out bulletins of books in stock that bear on the subject matter at interest, and the quick response from those who use the library is a source of much gratification.
      Timely books of the non-fiction class are displayed on special shelves and a table or so of books of information for the hour is always well filled and well patronized.
      The reference library at one wing of the building and the reading room in the other are used by an increasing number of citizens each year; and the co-operation of the library with the school system is in itself a commentary on the efficacy and ability of the librarian, Frank G. Willcox, and his corps of trained assistants.

Frank G. Willcox
Henry A. Chase

      A lecture hall in the library building affords a place for meeting already of several organizations. For a time university extension lectures were held here; but interest waning for no apparent good reason they were given up. Some beginning has also been made towards a historical collection; perhaps the city needs a little more of growth before the importance of a local historical association is realized ; but the historical data in this issue, and the cuts of early Holyoke and early Holyokers show what could be developed along this line by a properly organized medium.
      Surely no better location for historical papers and articles could be found in the beginnings than in this library building. And as time goes on and the value and convenience of this beautiful public building come to be more keenly appreciated, there will no doubt be housed here the beginnings of more than one fine civic enterprise; and it become to be more widely known as a community center from which shall arise and go forth the influences that shall broaden and better its citizenship and make the city of Holyoke a sweeter and saner place in which to work and dwell and fulfil the duties of the present life as well as prepare for that which is to come.

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