Warren Public Library – a History
by Sylvia G. Buck
The Town of Warren (initially called Western) was established in 1741 and for many years there was no public library. Books were highly valued, however, though most people owned few of them. They bequeathed their books in their wills along with other family valuables. As some people’s personal wealth increased, they were able to establish their own private libraries.
In 1802 (before Warren was renamed from its original name of Western), the Western Library was formed, a privately held institution in which borrowers had to be members and pay dues to belong.
In 1831 this library, which was now called the Western Social Library, joined with the Western Lyceum which had been formed in 1829. Lyceums were first founded in Millbury in 1826. These popular lecture programs became a national movement in 1831. Warren (Western) was right in step with the times.
In years to come, the Western Library absorbed the Lyceum and continued until 1841. During the Civil War, (1861-1865) people’s attention was diverted from their library and it may have become dormant.
Public Library Established
Following the Civil War, the need for a public library was recognized. In 1876 Warren Public Library was established as a corporation by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature. It was to be free and open to the public. But where to place it? They had to wait until the new Town Hall was completed in 1879 to gain a home. And what to do for books?
Nathan Richardson, a Warren real estate broker, donated $500. for books, followed by an appropriation from the Town at the next Town Meeting. Some books were also given from the old Quaboag Seminary private high school collection. Others books were donated by Nathan Richardson’s niece, Mrs. Hastings of New York. Clara Adelphia Powers was the first librarian.
In the 1880s, the town was growing quickly, with the cotton, wool and pump industries needing many workers. It wasn’t long before the library had outgrown its Town Hall quarters.
Nathan Richardson led a Building Committee and contributed the first gift of $5,000. Businesses and industries added substantial donations and many other residents also subscribed to the Building Fund in large and small amounts. The total cost of the building was $15,000.
Senator Wilson H. Fairbank, who lived in the home just east of the library, purchased the corner lot and arranged for the house to be moved from it. It went down Main St. and turned the corner onto Old West Brookfield Road where it still stands. Mr. Fairbank paid to have the lot graded and the stone wall built. His total contribution was valued at $4,000.
Architect Amos P. Cutting of Worcester was engaged to design this Richardson Romanesque building, using Monson pink granite and Longmeadow brownstone. The firm of Patrick Beston of Springfield did the construction. The new Library building was dedicated July 4, 1890 with appropriate exercises, involving Officers of the Town and the Warren Public Library corporation and Building Committee. Inscribed in the granite over the door are the words “Free too All.” A plaque on the wall to the right reads “WPL – A Gift of Friends.”
New Building Opened
One of the features of the building was many dark portraits of Warren and Library notables. When the library was re-oriented to become more kid friendly in the 1950s, these were considered frightening to small children and were removed to the second floor.
When it first opened, the library was first piped for gas illumination. Around 1898 John Chadsey paid to install electricity. This wiring served the building until it was replaced in 1980.
When the library opened, it was in the days of closed stacks. The public needed to present their requests to the librarian, who greeted them under the green lampshade in the window of the lobby. The front section of the first floor was open only as a reading room. Visitors frequently came to read the daily papers and magazines here.
Children’s area created
In 1954, three units of low shelving designed as a peninsular divided this room in half. The right side of this front room was devoted to the newest titles of adult books and several easy chairs. The left side became the first designated children’s area. Shelves were built along the walls and a low table and chairs installed. Story Hour programs were begun.
Open access to stacks
Perhaps around the same time (mid 1950s), the service area was moved inside from the lobby. A table opposite the main inside entrance door served as the charge desk. With the public allowed inside, the fence that had prevented library visitors from accessing the full library until the 1920s was removed to encourage library visitors to take advantage of the stacks.
New Charge Desk
In the 1960s, a beautiful charge desk was built with contributions by library users, in memory of Anita Zalis, a long time library volunteer and assistant librarian.
The original plan for the building was to have a Village Hall in the front of the second floor and a Portrait Gallery at the back. A Museum was added to the plan and glass cases were purchased. Lectures and other programs were held here, including after school programs given by Miss Christine Holman.
Not long after the library was opened, the first floor ran out of shelving space. The architect was asked to design a staircase within the library operations area and to add shelving upstairs. The Portrait Gallery idea was abandoned and 2000 books were moved upstairs to what now was called the Stack Room.
During the years of World War II, the second floor was closed off from downstairs to conserve heating oil which was needed for the war. A temporary ceiling was set in at the top of the stairs.
While the upstairs was not being used, the roof leaked and stained the ceiling and walls. The roof was repaired, but the ceiling damage was not.
By the 1980s, shelf space in the first floor was totally full. Funds were raised to repair and repaint the second floor space and in 2001 once again 2000 books were moved to the shelves upstairs.
Circulation goes automated
In 1994 computers were purchased and the card catalog became automated. Furnishings such as computer desks have been added as needed.
The materials collection has evolved as popular taste demanded. In the 1990s, videocassettes were added to the collection, requiring their own shelf space. Cassette books were added, needing more shelf space. DVDs were added, needing even more shelf space. Compact disc books were added, needing more shelf space.
Young Adult collection goes upstairs
The Young Adult collection moved into the former Reference Room area. Shelves were purchased for the videos and the DVDs and the YA paper backs. Book shelves became full again. More shelving units were purchased and the Young Adult Non-Fiction collection moved to the second floor.
Space still needed
The building was initially planned for 6,000 books. As early as 1909, the library Board of Directors were investigating ways to enlarge the building. The building now (2009) holds more than 30,000 items. A Building Program has been written describing space needs for now and the future. It awaits action.
 The dark style being common during those years.