History of the Boylston Public Library
The first library in Boylston was a private institution established in 1792, only six years after the town was founded. In 1880, its librarian, George L. Wright, encouraged members to convert their association into a public library that was then located in a room of the current stone historical museum, then the Town Hall. The present building was built in 1904 on the site of the old Center School, built in 1841, which, in turn, replaced the second meetinghouse of 1792. The First Parish deeded the land parcel to the library, thus the Town of Boylston, so long as a library occupies the site. The library building was a gift of Salome E. White in memory of her mother, Harriet Sawyer of Sawyer's Mills, a village now covered by the Wachusett Reservoir. It was designed by Worcester architects Fuller & Delano.
Boylston then had a population of only 1,370, which made the gift of a 4,000 square foot library with 5,500 volumes a point of local pride. Many old photos show the library in the center of town, often with groups posed under its central arch or including the trolley tracks that ran up Rt. 70 from Worcester to Clinton. From 1929 until it was closed in 1959, there was a small branch library in the Morningdale section of town established to meet the reading needs of that growing area.
Today the library serves approximately 4,300 residents, but the library building has not changed except for the conversion of the basement to a Children's Room in 1976 and the addition of a handicapped-accessible wood ramp to the front entrance in 1994. More intense use over the years resulted in serious overcrowding which led to the first expansion proposal in the late 1980s. At that time, two major needs for library space were evident. One was the need for a meeting room for the library's community programs. Even in 1980, these programs filled the library's open spaces making it difficult, if not impossible, for other patrons to reach the bookshelves. The other great lack was sufficient shelving in each department, especially for the variety of formats now wanted by local library patrons. In the 1980s, it was realized that developing technological advancements for providing new information sources would be difficult to deliver in such cramped spaces with insufficient electrical wiring.
In 1983, the non-profit Library Foundation was established by the Library Trustees to sponsor community events to raise funds for an anticipated expansion. This group is still active and maintains an independent treasury dedicated to the library improvement. In 1985, the architectural firm of Mark Mitchell and Associates was hired to create a schematic design for an expanded library. This schematic design was never utilized, as it was independently determined that the required funds could not be raised in the declining economic environment of the period.
In 1997, the Foundation asked the six-member publicly elected Library Board to create a Needs Committee. This committee composed of 16 individuals from the Trustees. Foundation and the local community, was charged with assessing the feasibility of expansion and with initiating the process. The Needs Committee conducted a public survey in 1998 that indicated broad-based support for the expansion of library services with particular emphasis on computer access, videos and children's programs.
In 1999, the Library was awarded a State Planning and Design Grant by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), and the Trustees retained the firm of Cheryl Bryan Consulting to prepare, with community input, a Library Building Program. Following completion of the Program, an architect selection process was initiated and the firm of Richmond, French Design was selected in July 2000 and a Feasibility and Schematic Design Report was completed in December 2000. In 2001, the library applied for, and the MBLC awarded, a $ 1,646,000 capital construction grant tor renovation and construction of a 10,000 SF addition. Private funding contributed another S480.000 and $1,720,000 was voted at Town Meeting in the fall of 2003. Unfortunately, the project did not go forward because of difficulties obtaining the required variances and special permits.
In 2007 a new 12,000 SF library was proposed on the Hillside site in Boylston, and the architectural firm of J. Stewart Roberts Associates prepared a schematic design. In March 2008, Boylston Town Meeting turned down a measure to provide funding for construction of this new library building. The declining economy, the lack of a commercial tax base, the expected burden of higher school costs on residents, and citizen desire for the library to remain at its history location in the center of town were cited as the primary reasons for failure of the vote at that time.
Upon the failure of the March 2008 town vote, the Library Trustees engaged in a number of initiatives to define, with certainty, what the townspeople of Boylston wanted from their library. These initiatives included the hiring of independent consulting firm, a town-wide survey, interviews of the Library Foundation, Friends of the Library, Board of Selectmen, and study of the future of library services to determine what the realistic needs of the Boylston Library building truly were.
In summary, it was determined that:
1) Citizens wanted the library to remain at its present location;
2) Citizens generally supported maintaining the Boylston Library but did not support a large, expensive library building; Maintaining expenses was a priority;
3) Boylston library users were regular users of larger libraries in adjacent towns;
4) Given anticipated changes in general technologies, library technologies, and the changing dynamics of patron readership, Boylston did not need a library with expanded browsing and working space;
5) A community room was desirable, but not a town requirement.
In 2009, a decision was made by the Trustees of the Library to proceed with a three phase renovation of the existing library without expansion. In August 2009, the firm of R. E. Dinneen, Architects and Planners, Inc. was retained to investigate the feasibility of undertaking these renovations to the existing facility.
Phase I of the library's renovation plan was approved at the Annual Town Meeting in May 2012 and completed in August 2013 by Poulin Construction, Inc. Elements of Phase I included a new septic system to replace the cesspool, a new ADA ramp and deck, and a new ADA compliant front door with a push button automatic opener.
Phase II of the library's renovation plan was approved at the Annual Town Meeting and at the Annual Town Election in May 2015. elements of Phase II include the installation of an ADA compliant lift, a remodel of the Children's Room, a new staircase, new bathrooms, substantial upgrades to the library's infrastructure, and an expansion of the parking lot.