History of the Holyoke Public Library, 1870-2013

(Click here for a newer online exhibit of the Library's history)

(Scroll down for photos of the Library Renovation and Construction Project)

The Holyoke Library Corporation is established for the purpose of organizing a library for the city. William Whiting, age 29, becomes the first president of the corporation and Henry Chase its treasurer.  With the donation of $3,000 and 1200 books, the library opens in a room in the old Appleton Street school. Sarah Ely is the first librarian. James H. Newton begins more than fifty years of service on the Library Board.




The library moves to a "beautiful and commodious room” in the newly-finished City Hall.  The library does not use the term "public” in its title and users have to pay $1 a year to borrow books.

Revisions to the city charter allow more funds to be allocated to the library. The $1 fee is dropped. In one year the number of users jumps from 441 to 2075 and the number of books loaned increases from18,835 to 44,655.

The Holyoke Water Power Company offers the Library Corporation the gift of a city block (then known as Athletic Park) for a library if enough money can be raised in three years to erect a suitable building. The Corporation raises $95,000, with major donations from William Whiting, William Skinner, William Loomis, and J.P. Morgan. Architect James A. Clough offers his services free of charge and Frank Dibble is chosen as builder.


Holyoke Public Library moves to its new (and current) home: a neoclassical building of Indiana limestone and white glazed brick in a park setting.  It is dedicated as the "People’s College”.  For the first time, patrons are encouraged to browse in the stacks for reading material. A children’s department is established. Within five years circulation doubles. Frank G. Willcox, two years into his tenure as Librarian, will serve for another 44 years.

A natural history museum opens at the library.  The collection includes local birds, mammals and reptiles, as well as rocks and minerals.

A new record collection begins circulating and by the end of its first week of operation the shelves are bare.
Circulation reaches approximately 300,000 books per year.  Three branch libraries open. Gilbert Rich serves as Librarian from 1946 to 1958.

A trust established by Joseph Allen Skinner is used to commission a series of murals from artist  Sante Graziani. His allegorical history of Holyoke is based on research in the library’s historical collections and takes six years to complete.

Wistariahurst Museum opens and the natural history collections are moved there.

Establishment of the Friends of the Library. Started with a steering Committee of eighteen, it grows to nearly 400 members. This organization of dedicated volunteers serves as the library's liaison with the community, as a public relations vehicle, and as advocate.

The city experiences a multi-million dollar budget shortfall. Library operations shut down. Drawing on its $1.5 million endowment fund, the library re-opens and begins circulating materials once again. The Library Director Mary Kates (who served from 1980-1996) recruits thirty volunteers to assist in the non-technical aspects of library operations, establishing a lasting tradition of incorporating volunteers into the work of the library.

late 1990s
Library becomes part of CWMARS (Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing, which facilitates efficient patron access to books and other materials from throughout the region.  Maria Pagan, who began working at the Library in 1985, becomes Interim Director and then Director in 1996.

The historical collections are moved to Holyoke Community College because of environmental conditions at the aging library.

Under the leadership of Maria Pagan, the Library applies for and is awarded a multi-million dollar grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for a library building project, contingent on library’s success in obtaining project support from the City of Holyoke.  Over the course of 2009-2012, numerous generous donations and a $5.5 million bond from the City allow the project to move forward.  

On November 17, work on the renovation of the Library began.  The design of Finegold + Alexander Architects calls for 70% of the 1902 Library to be restored to its former grandeur.  Bringing the glass and iron stack wing, which had been state-of-the-art in 1902, into compliance with current building codes presented an insurmountable challenge.  The stack wing was removed and replaced with a 15,000 square foot wing that houses the new entrance as well as a new children’s room and reference area. Plans are made for the historical collections to return to the third floor of new library.



With construction by the local company Fontaine Brothers and project management by D.A. Sullivan, the renovated library was completed and opened to the public on October 28, 2013. The new Library includes a new teen room, a computer lab and classroom, quiet study and tutoring rooms, a variety of comfortable reading areas, and a spacious community room for public meetings and events.  Patrons have access to Wi-Fi throughout the building. 
To read an article about the renovation project, see Second Edition: new Life for Holyoke Public Library .










Images from the Library Renovation and Construction Project

Original Front Entrance - after cleaning

Original Stack Wing

Original Stack Wing � exterior detail

Original Stack Wing

Original Stack Wing

Original Stack Wing - Chestnut Street fa�ade

Original Stack Wing � Chestnut Street facade

Original Stack Wing

Original Stack Wing

Original Stack Wing � demolition

Original Stack Wing � demolition

Original Stack Wing �after demolition

Original Stack Wing - center aisle of third floor stacks, facing Chestnut Street

Original Stack Wing - book stacks

Original Stack Wing - glass flooring, bookshelves, staircase

Original Stack Wing - stairwell

Original Stack Wing - detail of stack stairway railing

Construction of the new wing I

Construction of the new wing II

Construction of the new wing III

Construction of the new wing IV

Frames for new window-walls installed

Windows installed in new wing

Circulation Desk of the old Library

Staircase to third floor during construction

Mural restoration

Mural restoration

Old library clock set in Teen Room

Wooden cornices and moulding

Old meets new in the Periodicals Room

Installing staircases in the new Library

New floors installed in the old part of Library

The New Holyoke Public Library