ABOUT THE LIBRARY

History of the Westfield Athenaeum 

Westfield Athenaeum from Westfield Community Programming on Vimeo.

 

The very earliest history of the library dates to around 1830 when Westfield attorney William G. Bates formed Westfield’s first library association, the Westfield Social Library housed above Snow and Hayes General Store on Elm Street. In 1850 H.B. Smith purchased the books from Bates and ran a circulating library from his bookstore next to the Hampden National Bank on Main Street. The books were then purchased by Dr. Simeon Shurtleff who left the collection to the Westfield Athenaeum.

The Westfield Athenaeum was incorporated by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature, Chapter 88, on March 11, 1864. Hiram H. Harrison, president of the American Whip Company, announced he would provide a library and reading room for the town. A brick brownstone building, valued at approximately $10,000 was erected at 26 Main Street. Ten thousand dollars was raised by private subscription for the purchase of books. The Westfield Athenaeum opened its doors on January 1, 1868. A fee of $2.00 annually entitled one to full use of the library.

In 1895 the library became free to all residents of town fourteen years of age and older. In 1898 the trustees of the Westfield Academy conveyed, without consideration, land and building (Fowler-Gillett Homestead) on the corner of Court and Elm Streets. The house was remodeled for library use and dedicated on March 6, 1899.

The steady growth of the library and of the community soon created a need for a larger library. M.B. Whitney, President of the Athenaeum from 1893 to 1915 left the library $80,000 for building and remodeling. The new building and the remodeled Fowler-Gillett Homestead for the Boys and Girls Library were dedicated in 1927. The Jasper Rand Art Museum, a gift of Mrs. Florence Rand Lang in honor of her father and grandfather opened shortly afterwards. The Edwin Smith Historical Museum, a gift of William T. Smith in honor of his father, opened in 1928. The original library building on Main Street was torn down that same year.

A new main library wing and extension to the Boys and Girls Library were dedicated in 1966. These additions doubled the floor space of the Athenaeum. The Athenaeum Bookmobile began service in 1972 and made 30 stops per week. The Branch Library service began at the New Westfield High School on Montgomery Road in 1973 with a 2,000-volume collection.

In 1986 the library joined the C/W MARS automated materials sharing network and automated our collection of over 120,000 items, providing access to our circulating collections via the web. Since then a growing number of non-print formats have been added to the collection including e-books, e-videos and e-readers.

Budget constraints forced the closure of the Branch Library and the Edwin Smith Historical Museum in 1990. Bookmobile service was terminated that year. An Outreach Program began servicing homebound residents of Westfield in 1996, and computers with Internet access became available to the public in 1998. Wireless internet became available in 2005.

The Edwin Smith Historical Museum reopened in 2003 thanks to a grant from Westfield Bank and a tremendous volunteer effort. A variety of programs and services were added in 2003 including English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), General Equivalency Degree (GED and Pre-GED), The Athenaeum Lecture Series, and FIRST THURSDAYS @ the Athenaeum lunchtime concert series.

In 2007, a new Teen Loft opened on the second floor, thanks to a bequest from Herbert and Josephine Burk. In 2008, the Florence Rand Lang Auditorium was completely renovated and the library opened the Donald W. Blair Research Center, named in honor of former Trustee Don Blair. In 2009 a drive-up book return was constructed along the driveway.

Recently, we began a project called EDWIN Online that includes scanning and digitizing rare archival materials from our Edwin Smith Historical Museum and the Blair Research Center so that researchers can access them via the web, helping to preserve the original documents.

Yes, we still loan books and we expect to continue to collect and loan hardcover and paperback books for many, many years to come. As noted above, however, we are spending more and more of our resources on non-print materials and electronic information in order to meet our patrons’ needs for the latest technology. The Westfield Athenaeum is a vibrant library, continuously being updated with materials, technology, programs and services for the Westfield Community.

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§  General Equivalency Degree (GED), Pre-GED

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