The Newbury Public Library provides free and equal access to cultural and educational experiences and resources. We celebrate knowledge and promote creativity, while striving to connect our community and enhance the quality of life in our town.
Newbury Public Library – Then and Now
(Adapted by former Board of Trustee Chair Liz Tentarelli from a talk given at the Center Meeting House’s Thanks for Giving celebration on Nov. 22, 2015, at which the library was the honoree.)
The Newbury Public Library’s history is a long one. In 1796, a “social library” was started to serve the towns of Sutton, New London, and Newbury, which at that time was called Fishersfield. The library was in Sutton, and it cost $2.50 for a person to become a shareholder and borrow books.
After nearly 100 years went by, the state offered funding to towns starting their own libraries in 1882. Newbury elected a Board of Trustees (who were paid $3.25 a year; now trustees are unpaid), and the town meeting appropriated $25 to qualify for $100 from the state to start a library. John Hay donated $25 a few years later. The town paid out $13 for materials, a bookcase, supplies, and insurance.
Where was the library? From 1883 until 1910, it was in a room above the Cilley Store in South Newbury. It was open six days a week for 72 hours! Being above a store, we can assume it was open when the store was open. Then it was moved next door to the home of Edwin Blodgett, who received $5 a year in rent from the town. By 1920, the library was upstairs in South Newbury’s town hall.
But wait—by 1915, Newbury actually had two libraries! The other was in the King’s Daughters Hall, which we now call the Vets Hall, to serve residents in the northern end of town. Until 1944, the libraries charged two cents for each item checked out, which paid for running the library, including salary for the librarians. We can imagine the librarians encouraged people to check out more books!
Both libraries were in operation about three hours a week until 1963, when the “new” library was built—the space we now use as the children’s room of our current library. It was here where materials were combined from both libraries. The collection now had 3,100 items (as of 2015, the library had 17,000 items).
By 1998, the library was bursting at the seams. The voters at town meeting approved a bond issue for a 2,100-square foot addition. A capital campaign brought in $140,500, and construction soon began. An additional anonymous donation expressly for technology allowed the newly expanded library to computerize its operations and offer patrons computers with Internet access. On May 29, 1999, the library officially opened. Visits and circulation soared, doubling the numbers of just three years prior. At this point, there were nearly 8,000 items in the collection.
The first library was open 72 hours a week, just like the store in which it was housed. By 1967, the library was open just five hours a week, then ten hours a week by 1978, and just 20 years ago (1995) it was open only 12 hours a week. Currently the library is open 41 hours, six days a week.
For all this long history, it’s surprising how few head librarians Newbury has had. Mertie Rowe served for 33 years, as she notes proudly in her handwritten letter of resignation in our files. Helen Nye was librarian for 39 years. George Beal was librarian for only seven years, but celebrated his 80th birthday with a bash at the library in 1992. The chair he designated for patrons to sit and chat with him is still in our library—the orangey-red leather chair at the checkout desk.
Much remembered is Assistant Librarian Alice Lynn, who passed away in 2015. She worked part-time from 1989 until 2009, and was a living history resource for people with questions about Newbury.
Fondly remembered is Alan Brown, who was our library director for 10 years. In 2004, he was honored by the NH Library Trustees Association as Librarian of the Year. Alan greeted everyone by name when they entered the library, and when he moved back to Alaska he was missed by many.
Rosie Johnson was the library director beginning in January 2006. She retired after 10 years of working enthusiastically to increase programming, improve technology and customer service, and build on the rich history of the Newbury Public Library.
Lea McBain, the assistant director and youth services librarian since 2013, was appointed the new director at the end of January 2016.