The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 15, 2000


Treasures of Carlisle's Past: A Fine Tradition of Libraries Part II

(Part I, which appeared in the Carlisle Mosquito of August 4, 2000, chronicled the establishment of Gleason Public Library. This sequel traces the growth of the library during the 20th century.)

Walking through the newly renovated and expanded Gleason Library one is immediately reminded that this building has a rich and important heritage. Joanna Parker Gleason recognized the need for a public library, and in the following years many people had the vision to ensure that Carlisle would have an up-to-date, professional facility.

Library services expanded throughout the past century in response to changes in the field of library science and the needs of a growing population. Head librarians during this century include the first librarian, Mary A. Green, who retired in 1938. Succeeding her have been: Orra H. Bearse, Ruth C. Wilkins, Pauline Kohlrausch, Helen Wilkie, Margaret Hilton and Ellen Rauch.

In 1941 Martha Fifield Wilkins donated to the library 25 volumes representing her research on Carlisle homes and families and including many old photographs. Orra Bearse called the donation "the outstanding event of the year." Two years later, Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins gave the library her history of the First Religious Society. These two collections strengthened the local history research holdings at the library.

Updating the library

At mid-century several steps were taken to update the library. In 1949 an inventory of all books was conducted under the direction of Pauline Kohlrausch and in 1950 the subject file index of the card catalogue was enlarged. In 1951 the library began borrowing books from the Division of Public Libraries in Boston to augment its holdings. In 1953 the library became one of the partners of the Merrimack Valley Library Association Program and in 1961 joined the Eastern Massachusetts Regional Library System.

Library staff worked closely with the local schools. In 1950 librarian Helen Wilkie awarded State Reading Certificates to Carlisle School students. Two years later formal arrangements were made for classes to visit the library, and summer reading programs were begun. Today's popular Storyhour began as occasional storytelling offerings which became formalized as a weekly Saturday afternoon program in 1962. Perhaps nothing suggests the growth of the library more than the expansion of its hours. Originally, it was open only on Saturdays and then added Wednesday hours. During the 1960s hours of operation increased with Mondays added in 1964; Fridays, in 1965; Tuesdays in 1969. In 1974, with the addition of Thursday hours, the library welcomed patrons six days and five nights a week as it does today.

Technology brings expansion

A growing population and changes in technology necessitated expansion of the library's physical facilities. The Schiffer Report of 1961 recommended that a new addition be built, and library staff and trustees began visits to other libraries to assess ways of accommodating growth. The founding of the Friends of Gleason Library by Mrs. Walter (Kay) Woodward in 1966 provided a group to support library activities and raise money for special projects. Caroline Cutter Harris, chair of the Library Trustees, led fundraising efforts for a library addition, soliciting a matching grant from the Blanchard Foundation. In 1970 Town Meeting approved funds for the project, augmented by a Federal Reimbursement Grant and private donations. Morehouse and Chesley of Lexington served as architects and Sarno Construction Company of Winchester as General Contractor. Groundbreaking for the new addition took place on February 29, 1972. A year later, in February 1973, the library moved into its new quarters, and the second floor of the original Gleason Library was turned into offices for town and police employees. An open house and tour on April 29, 1973 celebrated the completion of the library's new quarters.

Circulation doubles

By 1985 circulation at the library had nearly doubled from that of 1975. Under the auspices of Library Trustee Chair Maureen Ruettgers and Margaret Hilton, the second phase of the expansion project began. Cambridge architects Dewing and Schmid (Chip Dewing of South Street) designed a mezzanine to accommodate 50 percent more books. The first air-conditioning was installed for the comfort of patrons and conservation of books and magazines. Two other features of this expansion, the enlarged children's room and the quiet study link to the original building, were direct forerunners of features of the latest remodeling. Even as work was completed in 1986 an eventual expansion back into the original building was foreseen, once Town and Police departments moved to new buildings.

During the 1990s library staff and trustees explored designs to not only increase the size of the library but also to provide the new research and retrieval capabilities available "on line."

Melding old and new

The library has now come "full circle," moving into not only a new addition, but back into the original 1896 structure. The architects, Richmond French Design, and general contractor, Groom Construction, have provided a modern building, meeting all access codes, equipped with the latest in heating and cooling systems and housing systems based on the latest technology. The interior design firm of Lucas Stefura has melded the old with the new. The result is a building that respects the original library of 1896 while offering all the advantages of a the 21st-century facility. The building committee, chaired by Sally Swift, assisted by Kate Bauer Burke, Lyn DiBiase and Liz Thibeault, gave many hours to see this project to completion.

Open House and Dedication

On Sunday, September 17 -- the very date in 1872 that Town Meeting established a public Library -- Carlisle will recognize the efforts of this committee, the library staff and the trustees, Mary Cheever, chair, Rosalie Johnson, former chair. The community is invited to an open house and the dedication of this, the latest embodiment of Carlisle's fine libraries.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito