Wednesday, November 4, 2015

History of Maynard Library

Carnegie is a name oft-associated with public libraries. Steel industry tycoon Andrew Carnegie decided to use his wealth for the public good in his lifetime. He established a system by which municipalities could apply to him for funds to build a library if the city or town promised to buy the land and commit to an annual budget greater than ten percent of his gift toward construction costs. By the time of his death in 1919 he had gifted over $350 million dollars ($13 billion in today’s value) to many causes, including more than 2,500 libraries, two-thirds in the United States. A Carnegie gift led to construction of the public library in Hudson in 1905.

Local benefactors were often instrumental in start-ups of local libraries. William Wilde of Acton paid for construction of a library in memory of the Acton citizens who had fought in the Civil War (hence Acton Memorial Library). William Munroe paid for the Concord Free Public Library. In Stow, John Witt Randall donated a collection of 700 books to start a town library in 1851, and later bequeathed the money used to build the original parts of the present-day Randall Library in 1894. Similarly, in Sudbury, John Goodnow II, who died in 1851, left land and funds to build the Goodnow Library.

The 1851 date is important. In May of that year the state of Massachusetts passed an Act to authorize cities and towns the right to tax occupants one dollar per year to create a public library and twenty-five cents per year in subsequent years for operation expenses. Personal and business bequests and donations were allowed. By 1870 there were eighty free public libraries in the state, all pre-dating Carnegie's impetus.   

In Maynard there was no significant benefactor. The Town appropriated $1,000 in 1881 to start a library, located in a room in the Acton Street School. Subsequent annual budgets were in range of $500-600 per year, mostly for more books. The library was open two evenings per week. A few years later it was relocated to rooms in the Riverside Cooperative Building, at the site of what is now the Knights of Columbus building, then in 1918 to second floor rooms in another building on Nason Street. Only in 1962 did the Maynard Public Library get its own building, next to town hall.

Library entrance dates to school that opened in 1892
Forty years later the demands for library services called for a much larger facility than could be provided at the Main Street site. After consideration of many options a decision was made to utilize the Roosevelt School building at 77 Nason Street. This elementary school opened in 1918, built on the 1892 stone foundation of what had been the wood-framed Nason Street High School, completely destroyed by fire in 1916. Roosevelt School existed from 1918 through 1988. The building then stood empty, deteriorating, until a combination of state grant, town tax funding and private donations - the last accomplished by efforts of the Friends of the Maynard Public Library - combined to total the $5.7 million needed for this project. Middlesex Savings Bank was a major contributor with a gift of $100,000.

The plan from the architectural firm Lerner | Ladds + Bartels was to retain the entrances and brick walls of the school building but construct an entirely new structure within the exterior shell. The result is a three story, 24,000 square foot building with an open core and stairwell, naturally lit from above via skylight.  

Maynard Library - looking up at skylight from first floor
Click on any photo to enlarge
An anecdote: during the empty years, the Town of Maynard used the building to store all lost bicycles that went unclaimed by owners. Some towns have annual auctions of unclaimed bicycles - sold "as is." Not here. When the building was being cleared prior to start of construction, an open topped waste container 6x8x22 feet (30 cubic yards) was filled with bicycles.

Twenty-first century libraries are so much more than books. Over time, libraries added adult reading rooms, newspapers and magazines, children's rooms, story time, meeting rooms, used book sales, use of computers, access to internet, movie nights, guest speakers, education programs, museum passes, loaning out e-books, movies and music, and so on. Inter-library book transfers allow libraries to have smaller collections on site, yet still provide access to the larger world of books.

The brick facade dates to Roosevelt School, which
opened in 1918 and operated for 70 years
Maynard's library also uses the first floor meeting room for art displays and a glassed cabinet on the second floor for historical displays. The third floor is for children's programs. To the left of the entrance is a red cicycle rack that spells out the word "BOOKS." Between in and the door is one of Maynard's fire alarm call boxes. Visit to learn more about what this library provides.

Annual reports mention 1,893 books in 1885 and 3,416 books in 1891.

1881-1885       Acton Street School (now Jarmo's Auto Repair site)
1885-1918       Riverside Cooperative Society, Nason Street (now Knights of Columbus site)
1918-1962       2nd floor, Naylor Block, Nason Street (now dentist's office)
1962-2006       Town Building Annex, Main Street (now Maynard Police station
2006-present    former Roosevelt School, Nason Street

Fifty of David Mark’s 2012-2014 columns were published in book "Hidden History of Maynard" available at The Paper Store, on-line, and as an e-book. And at the Maynard Public Library!

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