Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holyoke Public Library

I've always loved the Holyoke Public Library. The architecture, the smell of old books. Libraries in general just feel relaxing to me. But how many people actually visit a library in this day of the internet? Do you know the history of this beautiful institution?

The Holyoke Public Library Corporation was established in 1870, three years before the city of Holyoke was incorporated. At the time, Holyoke was a town of 10,000 people. The first home of the library was a room in the old Appleton Street School where it remained for six years. In 1876, the library was moved to a large central room on the main floor of City Hall, where it remained for twenty-five years until its quarters became so congested that development into a modern public library was not possible.

In 1897, the Holyoke WaterPower Company offered the Library Corporation the gift of a city block bound by Maple, Essex, Chestnut, and Cabot Streets, on condition that a sum of money sufficient to erect a suitable building be raised in three years. More than $95,000 was raised, including $10,000 from financier J. P. Morgan. In February 1902 the library moved into its present home. The building is an exact reproduction of classic Greek architecture with Ionic columns and is built of Indiana limestone and glazed white brick with a roof of red tiles. By 1970 the library had achieved a collection of some 150,000 volumes, an annual circulation of 250,000 and four small but active branches.

When the Library moved into its new home, it opened a museum of mainly Natural History and Ethnology on the second floor in 1928. Art was added when a collection of twenty-nine paintings was purchased by subscription. Eventually, the collection outgrew its quarters and in the 1950's was moved to the city-owned Wistariahurst Museum, an historic home located not far from the library. In the mid-1970's, the museum was returned to the Library.

After falling into a state of disrepair over the years, the Library building was slowly restored during the 1980’s with the help of over $750,000 in grants obtained by the Library Director, Mrs. Mary E. Kates.

In June 1989, the city experienced a multi-million dollar budget shortfall. When voters rejected an override of Proposition 2 ½, Mayor M. Dunn cut the city's appropriation to the library by 75%, reducing it well below the level of local funding required for state aid, which was therefore also lost. Library operations were essentially shut down during the month of July with only the Reading Room open from 9am to 12pm Monday through Friday. There was no circulation of library materials. The Children's Room and the only remaining branch library were closed.

In August 1989, the Library's Executive Committee voted to hire back two full-time employees, the Children's librarian and the Cataloger-Hispanic Liaison, along with four part-time employees and to pay these employees using the income from the library's $1.5 million endowment fund. The library opened during the second week of August on a thirty hours a week schedule and began circulating materials once again. The Library Director recruited thirty volunteers to assist in the non-technical aspects of library operations...most of them are still a part of our library team.

In fiscal year 1990-1991, Mayor Dunn increased the municipal appropriation by $20,473 that was earmarked specifically for reopening the Elmwood branch Library. The total municipal appropriation, $97,682, was still too small to enable the library to qualify for state aid.

In June 1991, Holyoke voters rejected a Proposition 2 ½ override that would appropriate $100,000 for the library. The city thereupon appropriated only $12,300 to the library, designated for sick leaves and vacation buy-backs. All remaining library employees, including the Director, became private, part-time employees of the Library Corporation. The library's schedule was reduced to twenty hours a week, all standing book orders and subscriptions were canceled and both the museum and the Elmwood Branch were closed.

In July 1991, the library's Board of Directors voted to sell the Library's entire fine arts collection and to close the museum permanently. The sale of art generated much adverse publicity for the library throughout New England creating a painful, tension-filled year for the Officers, Board of Directors and staff.

The financial situation has slowly improved since 1991. The municipal appropriation for 1992-93 was $62,400, which was sufficient to restore state aid. Since then it has increased each year, reaching $265,010 for the fiscal year 2000-2001. However, the library has continued to operate on a slender budget, with the result that salaries are lower than those for most other libraries, and the library has lagged far behind most others in terms of computer accessibility and usage.

A major step by the Holyoke Public library was the establishment of the Friends of the Library group in 1983. This group, which started with a steering Committee of eighteen, now has some 400 members. This organization of dedicated volunteers served as the library's liaison with the community, as a public relations vehicle and as advocate. From its beginning in 1983 until the present, the Friends have raised and donated over $71,000 to the library. In addition to their public relations and fund-raising activities, the Friends group provides opportunities to socialize through educational and cultural luncheon, trips to museums and historical houses, and guest lecturers on a variety of topics.

According to data collected by the state agency, MBLC, in fiscal year 2001 less than one percent (0.23%) of the total municipal budget for Holyoke was allocated for the library. This is a library per capita expenditure of $6.65. The average library percent of total municipal expenditure of the 48 municipalities in the same population size (group 6: 25,000-49,999) is 1.39%, for an average library per capita expenditure of $27.10. Holyoke is low in its financial support when compared to its population group. The average for the state’s 350 municipalities reporting total municipal expenditures for library services is 1.36%, or an average library per capita expenditure of $26.71. Therefore, in terms of both state and demographic groups, Holyoke’s library expenditures are below average.

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