It is hard to believe that the library has been in its current location for 20 years! To commemorate this occasion, Kathy Meagher has put together some photographs showing how the former Town Hall was transformed into the Billerica Public Library and she has provided a history of library service in Billerica.
The library had three openings. The first, on April 28, 2000, was an invitation only Black Tie Gala. This was followed by a grand opening with ribbon cutting and public welcoming on Sunday May 7, 2000. Finally, on Monday May 8, 2000 the library opened for business.
Over the last 20 years, the library has maintained its commitment to serving as a vibrant community hub, fostering lifelong learning, inspiring ideas, enriching lives and carrying the Billerica community into a productive and creative future. We look forward to continuing to serve the community for the next 20 years and beyond.
A History of Library Service in Billerica
Social libraries are a collection of privately owned books that are shared. They are funded through membership fees or a private benefactor. Billerica’s first social library began in 1772 and was housed at the First Parish Church. Our second social library began in 1807 and belonged to the Ladies Sewing Society. These were later joined and housed at the First Parish Church where the collection grew to seven hundred books by 1876.
The Bennett Library and the Talbot Library were also a kind of social library. The Talbots erected a two-story building for the purpose of a library and reading room. The Talbot Library opened in 1880 with over 1000 books primarily for the free use of their employees and their families but, for a fee, the public could use them. The funding for the Talbot Library came from the Talbots for the betterment of their workers and families.
At the same time the Talbot Library Association was forming, the Bennett Public Library Association was forming. Mrs. Eleanor Bennett understood the need for a public library in our growing town. She wanted to bequeath one to the town in memory of her late husband. The town however was not ready to take on the expense or responsibility, so they turned down the offer. Mrs. Bennett was not to be thwarted. The lot for the building was donated by William Osborn and the building was erected at Mrs. Bennett’s expense and it was deeded to the newly formed “Bennett Public Library Association”. Mrs. Bennett and her daughters donated the building, furniture, supplies and books (the previously mentioned books that were held by the First Parish church were added to this collection).
The Bennett thus became a private library designed for public use. The privilege of using the books was only $1/year but full membership in the association was $5/year or a lifetime membership for $25. The building was designed to hold 10,000 to 12,000 books – an enormous amount for the time. The Bennett was the town’s public library for the next 100 years. It remained privately owned by the Bennett Public Library Association but did receive public funds.
By 1980 the Bennett collection had grown to approximately 40,000 books. The library was growing in importance to the social structure of the town as well. A library building committee battled for 10 years to secure the funding for a much-needed larger library facility. In 1980, the new 12,000 square foot building opened just down the road from the old site. Under Town Charter, it became the Billerica Public Library. The books were transferred from one building to the other by a human chain.
The Bennett had served the town for 100 years, but the town would outgrow the “new” library after only 20 years. The new “new” Billerica Public Library opened next door in the old Town Hall on May 8, 2000. This wonderful 40,0000 sq. foot building was constructed using the former Town Hall with a large addition to the rear. Renovating and utilizing the empty Town Hall, built in 1895, has preserved an historic landmark as well as secured the future of the library service in the community.