In October of 1852, the year of Swampscott’s incorporation as a separate town from Lynn, the Board of Selectmen voted to accept a proposal brought to them by Dr. William Lawrence of Boston, to establish a “town library”. It was his gifts of one hundred and sixty-six volumes, accompanied by a monetary donation of one hundred dollars that formed the basis for the library’s book collection.Three months later, on January 15, 1853, the library opened in a room in the Town Hall. At the time of its opening, the library was not a free public institution, but an association, whose members, of which there were twenty-nine the first month, paid dues for the privilege of withdrawing books. These dues paid to replenish the collection as time passed.In 1867, the town began appropriating funds for the library and annual dues were no longer collected, but patrons were charged weekly fees for borrowing privileges. Finally, in 1879, the library was opened as a free public library in the Town Hall, with six hundred borrowers the first year.
On January 20, 1917, the library moved from Town Hall to its present location on Burrill Street. Land for the building site was donated by Professor Elihu Thomson, and funds for the building project were supplied by the Town of Swampscott and donations from local citizens. The arrangement of the new building permitted personal access to the books and provided for a modern system of classification. One side of the new building was devoted to adults and the opposite side to children. Later, in 1931, a new Children’s Room was finished and opened on the second floor.
Since that time, several more renovations have taken place. In 1955, the Swampscott Public Library began construction of an addition and extensive remodeling. A new wing housing the Children’s Room and the Auditorium was added. Other changes were a new entrance and lobby, an office and technical services area, as well as a lounge for the staff and public restrooms. In addition, Henry S. Baldwin contributed books and funds used to establish a local history and genealogy room.
1978 marked more changes in the Swampscott Public Library. To better utilize the existing library’s space, the Children’s Room was once again relocated to the second floor, reference materials were moved to the area vacated by the Children’s Room, and the Baldwin Room was re-established as the Local History Room.
In the mid-1980s, more changes took place. The lobby was renovated in 1984 to better accommodate the circulation desk, and in 1985, the library became automated. The Swampscott Library joined the North of Boston Library Exchange (NOBLE), a consortium of neighboring libraries. Through this networking project, the Swampscott Library was then able to pool resources with other area libraries, giving borrowers access to more than one million books. This innovation was made even more prominent in 1988 when the library purchased Online Public Access (OPAC) terminals for patrons to search the automated catalog.
In 1996, a groundbreaking ceremony took place for another addition to the library. This new section, completed and opened to the public on September 17, 1997, now encompasses the library’s Fiction Room on the first floor and Children’s Room on the lower level. The room on the second floor that previously housed the Children’s Room is currently used as a public meeting room and as a computer teaching lab.
The library’s book collection has grown to roughly 85,000 volumes and during the winter months, the library is open 47 hours per week, including day, night, and weekend hours. The Swampscott Public Library also provides access to newspapers, large print books, print and online magazines, music CD’s, books on tape and compact disc and playaways; VHS videos, DVDs, CD-ROM computer games, public Internet access, programs for patrons of all ages, as well as a myriad of other services.
*Information for this narrative was compiled by Vicky Coffin, Reference/Young Adult Librarian, from documents written by previous and current Swampscott Public Library staff members and Directors.