History of the Burlington Public Library

Compiled by Janet G. Hutchins
February 2005
Updated in 2018

Burlington’s First Library

Burlington’s first library was a “social library” that was founded in 1816. There were twenty-two proprietors who sold shares at $2 each. Additional funding was raised through an annual assessment of 25 cents per person. The library began with 90 volumes, with a total of 250 volumes in the collection by the time the library closed in 1842.

Early Days of the Burlington Public Library

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Building at 2 Mill Street                                                                                 
In 1857 the town began funding a public library that was housed in the store of Silas Cutler. Mr. Cutler was provided the sum of $30 per year for books, rent, and heat. By 1868 the library had 774 volumes listed in a printed catalog of alphabetized titles. The store and library were taken over by Mr. William Carter in 1874. The annual budget by that time had increased to $75 per year.


Shortly thereafter, the library moved to one room of a building known as the Bennett or Gleason Block, most likely located at the southwest corner of Center and Cambridge Streets. That building soon was split into two smaller houses, one of which was moved to 13 Sears Street and the other to 2 Mill Street.

Between 1879 and 1896 the library was housed in a room in the former Town Hall, located on what is now Simonds Park. In 1892, David Simonds bequeathed $1,000 to the town, the income from which was to be used for the purchase of books for the town library. That bequest led to the formation of a Board of Trustees to administer the funds. The first trustees – Augustus Prouty, Matthew Stevenson, Jr. and Marshall Wood -- were elected at a Town Meeting in April of 1894. The trustees immediately recommended a larger space be found for the library, noting in their first annual report of insufficient shelf space citing books sitting in piles on the floor and being stored at trustees’ homes.



clip image                                                      Former Town hall building                                                                                              


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Former Center School building                                                                                                                                        

The consolidation of the town’s schools into a single new building (the Union School) provided an opportunity to move to a larger building. When a former summer resident, Edward Barker, donated a sum of money to the town for library purposes in 1896, there were sufficient funds to convert the old Center School (now the Burlington Town Museum) at the corner of Cambridge and Bedford Streets into a library. The Library and Reading Room, as it then was known, opened on June 29, 1897 and remained there for Former Center School building over seventy years.

Records show that library circulation in 1889-90 was 2,068, with about 1,000 volumes in the collection.


Early Twentieth Century

From the late nineteenth century through the early 1950s the town’s population grew at a relatively slow rate and the library saw only minor changes. There was great stability in staffing – Mrs. Nettie Foster served as librarian from 1923 to 1940 and was succeeded by Lotta Cavanagh Rice Dunham who served as the Town Librarian from 1940 to 1957 in addition to being a local historian. clip image
Mrs. Nettie Foster at the Burlington Fair

1968 Building at 22 Sears Street

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It became apparent by the early 1960s that the 2,000 square foot facility at the Center School was inadequate for a population that had grown from 3,250 residents in 1950 to nearly 13,000 in 1960. A library building committee was established in 1962. The committee’s report recommended a new building of at least 15,000 square feet, and the firm of John Carr Associates was hired to design the facility. A Town Meeting in 1964 approved a sum of $369,000 to purchase a 1.5 acre site on Sears Street and the construction of a new library. Unfortunately, bids came in higher than expected, and the size of the building was reduced to 12,000 square feet.

Construction of the building began in June of 1967 and the new library opened for business on September 18, 1968. For the first time, the town employed a professional librarian with a Master of Library Science degree when it hired Lisa Dagdigian to supervise operations of the new facility. Former librarian Alphonsine Harvey, who had served in that role since 1957, became Assistant Librarian until her retirement in 1972.
Also in 1972, Geraldine Guentner became Library Director, continuing in that position until 1991.

The late 1980’s saw the introduction of computers at the library. The INFOTRAC database on CD-ROM was made available to patrons in 1990. And, after several years of transition planning, online terminals tied to the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium replaced card catalogs in 1991.

1995 Renovation and Expansion

After nearly 30 years of heavy use, the 1968 building began showing its age. It no longer complied with the current building and accessibility standards or size recommendations. Town Meeting approved funds for architectural work in 1992 and The Preservation Partnership
of New Bedford was hired to prepare plans.

On June 23, 1993 – on the second try – Town Meeting voted to approve $2,993,203 for additions and renovations to the 22 Sears Street building. No funds were allotted for new furnishings, in an attempt to keep the budget below $3 million. A $200,000 state grant obtained by Library Director Marcia Rich (1991- 2000) also was used to help defray costs associated with the new building.

The library moved to a temporary space at 23 Center Street during construction. Despite some controversy during construction concerning the amount of demolition at the old building, the removal of trees, and the respective roles of the Library Trustees and Selectmen in supervising the project, the new 29,000 square foot facility was completed early in 1995. At the dedication on July 6, 1995 the keynote speaker was then-Lt. Governor Paul Cellucci.

Burlington Public Library Today

The Burlington Public Library experienced many changes in the first 18 years of the new century. Under the leadership of Lori Hodgson (2001-2017) numerous public computers were added for Internet access and building-wide wireless Internet established. In addition to a physical collection, downloadable books, music, and videos were added. A wide range of online resources were made available for conducting research as well.

Under current Library Director Michael Wick, the library continues to strive to meet the needs of Burlington. In 2017, it had total circulation of more than 270,919 items, and more than 141,551 patrons came to the library to study, use the Internet, check out books, ask a reference question, check out an item, use a meeting room or attend one of the 518 programs offered for children, teens and adults.

Sources:

Annual Reports of the Town of Burlington

The History of Burlington 1640-1950/Lotta Cavanagh Rice Dunham and Robert W. Zahora (ed.)       

Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, Annual Report Information Survey,  2010

 

Photos:

Burlington Municipal Archives, Image Collection