A Brief History of the Lawrence Public Library
On March 31,
1847, a group of influential citizens from Lawrence founded and
chartered the Franklin Library Association. The core of this group
included the Honorable Abbot Lawrence (who gave Lawrence its name,)
Charles S. Storrow, Esq., an engineer, and Captain Charles H.
Bigelow, builder of the Lawrence Dam, who became the Association's
Association was the sole literary society in Lawrence for many years.
The "Lawrence Athenaeum" instituted a course of lectures for two
seasons, and the "Lawrence Lyceum" held a series of lectures for
approximately the same number of seasons. Both of these societies
merged into the Franklin Library Association. A series of twelve
lectures a year was then sustained for several years. Partially
because there was a registration fee for all members, most of the
patrons of the Association were upper class citizens and those
persons employed in the "professional" sector. Working class people
were not very active either in attending the Association's lectures
or in making use of its book collection.
In the early years of the Association, the
Honorable Daniel A. White of Salem, Massachusetts set up the White
Fund, the money to be used for the purchase of books and other
When the library and funds of the Association were turned over to
the City in 1872, the White Fund was instrumental in the
establishment of the Free Public Library. At that point, Trustees of
the White Fund proposed to contribute $1,000 annually to the Library
for the purchase of books and other needed materials.
Public Library first opened its doors on December 2, 1872 in rented
quarters in the Saunders Block at 240 Essex Street. The first floor
of the building was used for reading and general delivery, and the
second floor contained a 250-person capacity auditorium that was
used for lectures, meetings and forums. The first Librarian was
William A. Fletcher, who was then followed by Frederic K. Hedge, who
held that position for 27 years.
establishment of the Free Public Library, the collection and
materials became available to all residents of Lawrence.
Registration grew quickly as more and more working class people made
use of the library's ever expanding materials. Three years after the
library first opened, due to the lack of accommodations for the
increased collection and patronage, the Library was removed from the
Saunders Block to larger quarters in the Odd Fellows block. As of
1873, the total number of volumes in the Library numbered 11,624.
In 1892, a new library building on the
corner of Hampshire and Haverhill Streets was opened to the public.
Originally costing $50,000, it was later expanded in 1902 at an
additional cost of $37,300. The White Fund generously provided the
money for the construction and expansion. By 1923, the Library
contained approximately 84,000 volumes, a notable reference
department and very modern facilities. In addition, the owners of
the Pacific Mills donated all the volumes from their company's
library, which further enhanced the Lawrence Public Library's
collection. The first branch opened in South Lawrence (on South
Broadway) on August 1, 1898. The current branch library on Parker
Street was established in 1927.
The White Fund
held title to the Main Library until 1937 when the Trustees turned
ownership over to the City. When that building was sold in 1974, the
proceeds of the sale were used to establish an endowment for the
Public Library as had been specified by the Trustees of the White
Fund in 1937.
In 1965, a proposal for a new library
facility got underway. The idea was that the new facility be a
complete center of learning and information to the patrons and
residents of Lawrence. Facilities such as Exhibit Rooms, a Business
Section, Audio-Visual Services, and special accommodations for
advanced students and adults were all included in the planning of
the new building. The projected space needs for the new facility
were based on the assumption that 250,000 volumes would have to be
accommodated by 1985.
plenty of reading and browsing room, as well as easy access to all
library materials were major concerns in the design and architecture
of the proposed facility.
On June 10,
1973, the new Lawrence Public Library was officially opened on the
corner of Lawrence and Haverhill Streets. The new building was
55,238 square feet in area, and the entire project cost $2,421,169.
There was a total seating capacity (for readers and staff) of 760,
plus the Irving W. Sargent Auditorium, which has seats for 270 more
has progressed with the times since the opening of the current
facility. Our third floor, which houses the administrative offices
of the library, has been used, until recently, as rental space. The
space has been used by Northern Essex Community College and by the
Americorps/Youthbuild program. Renovation projects in 1999, 2000 and
2005/6 have resulted in a modified plaza-style entry area with a
semicircular driveway, a new parking area on the corner of Haverhill
and Lawrence Streets, complete re-carpeting of the entire facility,
a new meeting room dedicated to the poet Robert Frost and the
addition of a local history room. These two latter additions are on
the third floor area mentioned above.
has continued in its core mission of collecting books and
periodicals considered most enjoyable and beneficial to our
community. We have also greatly expanded the formats available in
our collection. The collection now includes computer software,
videos, DVDs, CDs as well as an extensive collection of microform
materials for historical and genealogical research. The Library
houses a sixteen station computer lab in its main facility adult
services area, as well as four stations in the Children’s room and
eight more in our Branch Library.
As a member of the Merrimack Valley Library
Consortium and the Northeast Massachusetts Regional Library System,
the Lawrence Public Library is able to offer quality online
databases to its patrons as well as take part in the interlibrary
loan program run through the entire state. The current library
administration has made educational purchasing a high priority
particularly in the area of free, library card accessible online
services, available for both home and library use.
The Library is
under the management and control of its Board of Trustees. This
board consists of the Mayor, three trustees of the White Fund (these
members are ex-officio) and five citizens elected by the city
annual budget is made up by the Library administration and the city’s
Budget and Finance Director . It is then adopted by a majority vote
of the city council.