Somerville Public Library Main Branch

Like the West branch building, the main branch library in Somerville, MA was funded by Andrew Carnegie. The building was completed in 1917 after outgrowing the space first in city hall and then in a building adjacent.



The interior is bright and comfortable with orange bookshelves which are the result of an extensive renovation in 1975.



The frieze shows a procession for the festival of the Panathanaea. It is a reproduction of a section of the Parthenon's outer wall.



Other decorations include a bas relief carving which was a WPA Art Project completed in 1938



... and a donated statue of the Greek boxer Damoxenus, here garbed for Halloween.



Like all libraries, there are interesting tidbits of information. In 1901 the library started a delivery service to people's homes. Boys were paid five cents per book for each round trip delivery. Then there was the arrest of John McKay in 1904 for the theft of about 200 books valued at $1,600.

The most entertaining description was in the library's own pamphlet describing the first library director, Sam Walter Foss: "He was an exemplary director and a mediocre poet."


Additional photos can be seen by clicking over to the gallery for this library.


Pamphlet: "Everything You Wanted to Know About the Somerville Public Library But Were Afraid to Ask"

Newspaper clippings, date and source unknown.

Library Trustees Annual Report, 1938

The Library Journal, June 1904 issue.

Occupy Boston Library, Dewey Square, Boston MA

Occupy Boston is a very organized endeavor. There are tents for information, medical care, media relations, and cooking. The newest edition is space for their library.

Occupy Boston Library - exterior

No card is required to borrow books. No catalog, no fees, just the honor system and an inquisitive mind.


Occupy Boston Library - rules

There is a 'rack' for newspapers. Other current news that is available are hard copies of the minutes of the General Assembly meetings (which can also be found on the Occupy Boston Wiki pages.


Occupy Boston Library - news

And of course, it wouldn't be a library without 'stacks'.


Occupy Boston Library - Stacks 1

Note the plentiful titles by Noam Chomsky.


Occupy Boston Library - Chomsky Books

The library welcomes donations of books, particularly those focused on philosophy and politics. I would guess that these very serious and committed folks might also enjoy a few genre fiction titles. Even anarcho-libertarian freedom fighters need a break sometimes.


While the tents are physically occupying a public space, what has been created is a functioning community, not only in Boston but across the country and the world. I look forward to returning to Dewey Square and the Occupy Boston Library. Next time I'll bring some donations.


Photos by kiwitayro.

West Branch, Somerville MA

Back in May (this post is just a little delayed) I visited a library in Somerville, MA. I had walked by the building on the way to work for several years but never entered. By coincidence my visit was on the 101st anniversary of the dedication.

Somerville West Branch Library facade

Residents of West Somerville accounted for 70% of library business back in the 1860's. They relied on mini branches located in shops in Davis Square. John F. Foster took up the cause for a permanent building and approached representatives of Andrew Carnegie for a funding grant. In the latter part of his life, Carnegie donated over $56 million to fund 2,509 libraries.

Somerville West Branch Library interior

The building was designed in the Classical Revival style, featuring Greek columns and symmetrical open rooms. The interior has wonderful details including a chandelier in the entrance.

Somerville West Branch Library chandelier
Somerville West Branch Library ceiling decoration

Some of the details have been lost. The walls and ceiling were once painted with decorations, some little of which has been uncovered. The second floor auditorium had the worst of it, losing not only the skylight which was filled in, but receiving carpeting on the floors and wood paneling on the walls. The 70's were truly a decorative nightmare.

Somerville West Branch Library auditorium

The childrens room in the basement needs a little help as well. Hopefully no one will paint over the murals.

Somerville West Branch Library camelot
Somerville West Branch Library merlin

I couldn't take pictures of the whole childrens room because at the time it was being used. There were three tables set up with a half dozen people per group. The people were of many different nationalities and backgrounds and were there to practice speaking english and prepare for their citizenship test.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love libraries because they are not just about bound paper books? If you'd like to see more pictures of the West Branch library, click here to view the photo gallery.

Sources: "West Branch Library Historic Structure Report", Somerville MA 1999.

Three to the North

On a beautiful summer day, I drove North to check out a few libraries in New Hampshire. First stop: Peterborough.

Incorporated in 1833, the library claims the distinction of being the first tax supported library in the United States.

The Friends of the library have their own building, a former home, where they conduct their seasonal book sales.

Second on the list: Hancock, NH. Established in 1860, the library began with 297 books.

A gift by Adolphus C. Whitcomb allowed the town to create the original building. Alas, several renovations and expansions modernized the interior. This view of the children's room shows the front of the library.

Finally, the smallest library I've ever seen, located in Stoddard, NH.

The library began in 1892. The current building was constructed in 1949 with funds from a bequest from the late librarian Mrs. Louise E. Davis. The Davis Memorial Library consists of a whopping 2.5 rooms (2.75 if you count the broom closet).

Here's another view of the main room:

Despite the tiny dimensions, it still dedicates a separate area for kids and young adults.

Besides the two rooms there's a cramped nook for the librarian to conduct all her tasks. Outside is a screened tent where patrons can enjoy the free wifi without getting bitten by various flying bugs. There's also a portable toilet. That's right, the library is so small it doesn't even have plumbing!

I hope you enjoyed the mini tour as much as I did. You can view additional photos of the buildings by click here to the photo gallery.

The Gallery is Open

Once in a while I visit a library with a very interesting building or story connected to it. I'll take photos and post details about my visit in a blog entry.

I usually have more photos than I use in the blog post. Not all the pictures fit into the narrative, but I've always wanted to make them available. I'm pleased to open the library photo gallery on this site:

You can click on the library name to enter the gallery. Once inside, clicking on a photo will start a slide show. You can zoom in on each picture to see all the details (including blurry, shaky photos taken by my unsure hand).

All the photos are open for public non-commercial use. All I ask is some attribution and link back to this site. Enjoy the photos!


MacKay Branch Library, North Chelmsford MA

The area of North Chelmsford has had a library since the late 19th century, then run by the North Library Corporation. The original building was on Gay Street and in 1906 hired an 18 year old local woman named Anna Campbell MacKay to be the librarian.

MacKay died tragically of kidney disease at age 35. Her brother Stewart MacKay donated the family home in North Chelmsford to the town in 1947 to be used as a library in honor of his sister.


Many details of the original home have been maintained over the years, including the stained glass window in the entry way and the parlor with its fireplace and beautiful mantle.


What I love about converted buildings is the reminders of their prior use. Imagine the days lived in the rooms where now books reside. There are nooks on the top floor where young Anna might have snuggled up with her own books. There are stairs and doors, locked to library patrons, that suggest secret passage ways to magical realms.



On the top floor is a toddlers room painted with whimsy. What games did Anna and Stewart play up under the eaves in their childhood?


Alas, the Anna C. MacKay Branch Library is under threat of budget cuts. In the minds of local bureaucrats, why not cut funding for branch libraries? There's the shiny main library that everyone can use. Let's save some money.

Never mind the historical relevance of this library. Never mind the convenience to those within walking distance, who can take a stroll with their children to enjoy story time. Never mind that branch libraries often provide different services, often more personable services, than the big main library building. Let's hope the MacKay branch survives.


Many thanks to librarian Bonnie Rankin for her time and the history of the library that she wrote. And many thanks to my colleague at TJ's, Stuart, who has reminded me for the past six months to go visit this library.

South Berwick Public Library

Most libraries start out as a form designed for a function. In South Berwick, Maine, there is an example of function shoe-horned into a historic home.

Thanks to local citizen effort, the South Berwick Public Library re-opened in 1971 in a rented room in the Jewett Eastman House. In this building and in the one next door, writer Sarah Orne Jewett lived and wrote most of her works.

One can tell upon entering that the library is special, not only for books but as a community gathering place.

What was once the dining room now holds the children's collection, the built in shelves re-purposed.

Just imagine curling up with a picture book on this window seat (with 20 over 20 window panes!)

The parlor has reproduction wallpaper and very much original Delft tiles around the fireplace.

Unfortunately, this neat form cannot sustain the function. The floors are reinforced to manage the weight of books. Those beautiful windows with wavy glass panes are very drafty during the long winters. Again local citizens are rallying to move the library, but not to a new building. Their aim is to renovate St. Michael's Church. I hope they succeed; that would be a wonderful library to visit.

The Leys Institute, Auckland, New Zealand


As a child, William Leys arrived in New Zealand from England with his family. He lived and worked in the Ponsonby district of Auckland, having a career as a bookbinder.


Upon his death, he made a bequest of £5,723 to establish a place organized along the lines of the Mechanics Institute. This was to "promote literary culture and technical education ... [and] advance in other ways the intellectual development and social welfare of the community."


His younger brother, Thomson Leys, took up the torch. Himself a successful businessman and co-owner of the Auckland Star, T.W. Leys convinced the town council to donate land while he would contribute half the cost of constructing the building. The Leys family involvement in the library would continue until the 1990's.


The building was completed in 1905 and described as "Edwardian Baroque and Renaissance Revival Style". A renovation in 1991 restored the exterior to the original terracotta color.


The Institute was composed of a reading room, a magazine and newspaper room, as well as a lecture hall. Fine details can be found everywhere inside, from the staircase to the plaster decorations.




T.W. Leys was a Creationist and as editor of the Auckland Star, composed many articles seeking to debunk Darwin's theories. Despite this, lectures at the Institute were barred from discussing religious or political topics. Knowledge and learning would be addressed beyond the lecture hall doors.


From the beginning, improving physical health of district residents was a goal. In 1906, the gymnasium wing was constructed, funded by a bequest by William Mason. While the facility was not open for photos, rumor has it that some of the equipment dates back to the opening of the wing.


Early on, a focus on children was also important. The collection of books for young readers in 1909 is claimed to be the first such in Australasia. Yet another addition would be finished in 1959. Sir Cecil Leys financed the Hilary Leys Memorial Wing in honor of his late wife, creating a separate room for children.


The library archives had a photo of the children's room from 1959. I was amazed to see that the world map and the mural of indigenous wildlife were unchanged and in beautiful condition after over fifty years.





The library was taken over by the Auckland Public Library system in 1964 as the Ponsonby branch. Over the years, local residents fought off efforts to close the branch for budgetary reasons. The dedication of the locals can be seen in murals that were added to the lobby. Designed by artist Murray Grimsdale, the walls depict scenes of the Ponsonby neighborhood where Mr. Grimsdale lived.





The trip to New Zealand was a wonderful opportunity, made all the more special by finding such gems as the Leys Institute amongst the volcanic hills and bustling cities.

Urban Village: The Story of Ponsonby, Freemans Bay, and St. Mary's Bay by Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow, 2008.

One Man's Dream: The Leys Institute and the Family who Founded It By Coral Ridling, c. 2005.

Article, The New Zealand Herald, 9-2-1980.

Article, The Bay News, Jan - Feb 19080.

Article, Metro Magazine, Dec 1981.

The Doctrine of Evolution by T.W. Leys, 1888; Book Review and Analysis written by Lynnette Perrsons, c. 1987

Dracut Public Library

Most libraries that I visit are old, stately, even imposing. The buildings have a character, atmosphere, and materials that just aren't matched by modern methods. In the case of the Moses Greeley Parker Memorial Library, I was awed by the marriage of old and new.

While a social library existed in Dracut, Massachusetts in the early 19th century, a true public library was not established until 1900. Funds and land were given to the town by Moses Greeley Parker and his sister Mrs. Mary Morrison in order to construct a permanent home for the library in 1922.


Composed of brick with granite steps and a slate roof, the Georgian style building provided much needed space for the library.


From the ornate windows to the window seats and bi-level ceiling, the building shows an attention not only to the detail of the woodwork but to the necessity of light and scale. Certain spaces are innately appealing to us when we can experience a sense of ease and contemplation within them.


A much needed addition was created in 1979. Ironically, the old building was converted to storage a little over ten years later because of structural problems due to deferred maintenance. By the turn of the twenty-first century, plans were in hand to make major changes.

First, the 1979 building was demolished (which I think is the proper fate of most architecture of the 1970's). Second, the old building was restored and a new addition was built. From the outside, the curve of the new building gives a clue of the modern interior.


The image below is from the second floor. The old building connects to the new, opening into a soaring space. Likewise, the new entrance has a ceiling of normal height that leads into this circulating space.


The view up to the second floor really showcases the curve of the building.


Again on the second floor, spaces vary from wide open with lots of natural light to more compact like this area with the stacks.


The attention to detail provides surprises at every turn. One example is the carving in the wood that caps the steel bookshelves.


The only criticism I have is the library is too darn busy! I spoke with the reference librarian who said picture taking was fine as long as I didn't take photos of people without their permission. Since there were a lot of people using the resources of the library, my photo-journalism was limited. I hope these few pictures give a flavor of this wonderful building.

Dracut's Library Heritage By John C. Catin
The Dracut Historical Society, Inc., Dracut MA, 2002

Dracut Public Library website

Manchester, NH Public Library

The public library in Manchester, NH began in 1854 with a donation of books from the Manchester Athenaeum. The Carpenter Memorial building was dedicated in 1916. It has a foundation of New Hampshire Granite and was constructed with Vermont Marble.


Governor Samuel D. Felker spoke at the dedication of the building:

[Books] speak with a living voice and give use the best thoughts and bid us make the best of our lives. ... However dull one may sometimes find society, a well-selected library is never dull. Books will talk to you only when bidden, and whenever you confer with them they always have something to say.



The library has a beautiful rotunda whose dome has a skylight. The rotunda is certainly the most striking feature of the library.








Dedication of the Carpenter Memorial Library
Manchester, New Hampshire 1916

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