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The public Library.

William J. Rolfe, Litt. D.
The Public Library had its origin in the Cambridge Athenaeum, which was incorporated in 1849 for the purpose of establishing ‘a lyceum, library, reading-room,’ etc. The beginning of the library was made in 1855, when Mr. James Brown, of Watertown, bequeathed one thousand dollars to the institution, to be used in the purchase of books; but it was not until November, 1857, that the library was opened to the public.

The next year (1858) the Athenaeum sold its building (afterwards used as a city hall) to the city, which obligated itself to contribute at least three hundred dollars a year, for fifty years, to the support of the library, and to maintain it forever ‘for the benefit of the inhabitants of Cambridge.’ It now received the name of the Dana Library, in honor of Mr. Edmund T. Dana, who had given the land for the site of the Athenaeum building. Later Mr. Dana, by a codicil to his will, left fifteen thousand dollars ‘for the increase and support of the library;’ but the city lost this bequest through legal objections to the form in which it was expressed.

In 1874 the library, for the use of which a fee of one dollar a year had been charged, was made free to the public; and in 1879 the name was changed to the Cambridge Public Library.

In 1875 the library contained seven thousand volumes; in 1885 it had increased to eighteen thousand; and in 1895 to about fifty thousand.

In 1887, when the need of enlarged accommodations had become urgent, Mr. Frederick H. Rindge generously offered to give the city a large tract of land on Broadway, and to erect thereon a public library building. The offer was gratefully accepted, and the building was completed in June, 1889. It contained a book-room, or ‘stack,’ capable of holding eighty-five thousand volumes, a reading-room measuring sixty by [229] twenty feet, a delivery-room, and a suite of rooms for the preservation of the works of Cambridge authors and artists and other memorials of the history of the city. In 1894 a new wing was added, which provides a reading-room for children, a catalogue-room and librarian's room, and on the second floor a trustees' room and a large room which is to be used as a reference library of American history.

In the general reading-room there is a selection of about twenty-five hundred volumes of cyclopaedias, dictionaries, and other books of reference, which can be consulted without formality by all readers. There are also about a hundred and thirty periodicals, including the leading reviews and magazines, American and foreign, with a select list of newspapers.

The children's room is liberally furnished with juvenile periodicals and books. Scrap-books of pictures are provided for little ones who are not yet able to read. This room, which accommodates fifty readers, is always full in the latter part of the afternoon and all day on Saturdays.

For the convenience of readers at a distance from the library, seven local deliveries have been established, where books can be received and returned three times a week. At the Cambridgeport station, in the Prospect Union building, a small branch library has been formed. At present about twenty-five thousand volumes are annually circulated through these stations.

Another feature of the library system is the school delivery. Teachers in the high and grammar schools are allowed to take ten books each per week, to be used at their discretion among their pupils. The books are carried to and from the schools in baskets. In 1895 the number of volumes thus circulated was 6572.

This, however, does not represent fully the use made of the library by the schools. Many of the teachers use their personal cards to draw books helpful in their work; and hundreds of the older pupils have cards of their own. The English High School is too near the library to need the delivery, and it has its own library of several thousand volumes. Several of the other schools have small libraries that partially supply their wants. The children's reading-room is also an important means of furnishing good reading for the younger school-children.

The juvenile appetite for this intellectual food rapidly grows [230] with what it feeds upon. The demands upon the school delivery, according to the latest (1895) report of the librarian, show ‘a large increase.’ At present, indeed, they exceed the available supply. The report adds: ‘The greatest need of the library, so far as the schools are concerned, is for more copies of certain books very generally used. From similar grades throughout the city, requests are frequently received for long lists of books on the same subject, and these demands cannot always be satisfactorily met at one time.’ How they may be met is a problem which the trustees are endeavoring to solve. They regard the library as an integral part of our educational system, and will spare no efforts to bring it into more intimate and sympathetic relations with the schools. They believe that it will tend to lead teacher and pupil outside the narrow range of mere text-book instruction, to which they are apt to confine themselves, and thus to broaden their field of view, to enlarge their ideas, and encourage independent thought and research, and at the same time to cultivate a taste for good literature.

The total yearly circulation, since the opening of the new building in 1889, has increased from about eighty thousand to nearly one hundred and forty thousand volumes. This does not include the use of the reference library in the reading-room, of which no record is kept.

Since March, 1893, the library has been open for readers on Sunday from two to six o'clock in the afternoon. The number of visitors during the first seven months of the experiment (the only period for which I find statistics) was 1754, of whom 687 were under fourteen years of age.

Since January, 1896, a monthly Bulletin has been issued for gratuitous circulation, in which classified lists of additions to the library are given, with brief descriptive and critical notes upon the more important books. Special reading-lists and other matter likely to be useful to students and readers, especially the young, will be added from time to time.

The ‘Cambridge Memorial Room’ is already a considerable library in itself, and is fast growing in value and attractiveness. Three years ago, more than a hundred and fifty native or resident authors were represented on its shelves. The complete works of many of these are in the collection, including not a few rare first editions. Some of the books are enriched with autographs or manuscript notes by author or editor. [231]

Of seventy-nine volumes relating to Henry W. Longfellow, seventy are his own works, three are selections therefrom, and six are biographical. James Russell Lowell is represented by thirty volumes. Among these is an interleaved copy of Worcester's Dictionary, with his name and the date, November 24, 1847, and many manuscript notes from his pen. Oliver Wendell Holmes has eighteen volumes, including his first collection of poems published anonymously.

Among the manuscript rareties are two portfolios of Margaret Fuller's letters and writings, deposited by Col. T. W. Higginson; the ‘Letters given by the English Longfellow Memorial to the Longfellow Memorial Association of Cambridge,’ with the autographs of eminent Englishmen interested in obtaining the bust of the poet for Westminster Abbey; and the ‘Cambridge Light Infantry Orderly Book’ of 1815, contributed by Mr. Lucius R. Paige. There are also important manuscripts by Edward Everett, James Russell Lowell, and other authors.

This room is also coming to be a museum of souvenirs and relics connected with local history, some of which are of much antiquarian or artistic interest. A large glass case has recently been added for the old regimental flag presented to the library by the 38th regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, to whom it was given by Cambridge women in January, 1864.

Aside from the contributions to the Memorial Room, the library has had many valuable gifts in money and books from Cambridge people. In 1873 it received a thousand dollars by the will of Mr. Isaac Fay, and in 1889 two thousand dollars by that of Mr. Daniel P. Cummings. In 1889 also a fund of about nine thousand dollars for its increase was raised by a citizens' subscription. Among the more important gifts of books may be mentioned about five hundred volumes, chiefly historical, from Mr. Denman W. Ross; more than two thousand volumes (with a collection of paintings, engravings, photographs, medals, coins, etc.) from the estate of Mrs. Anna L. Moering; the rare and valuable medical library of Dr. Morrill Wyman, comprising more than four thousand volumes; about five hundred volumes from the estate of Prof. E. W. Gurney; and one hundred and seventy-seven volumes from the medical library of Dr. C. E. Vaughan. Lists of these and other donations are given in the annual reports of the trustees.

This imperfect sketch of the history and work of the library [232] must not close without a brief tribute to the memory of Miss Almira L. Hayward, who was its librarian for twenty years (from 1874 to 1894); and for this I cannot do better than to quote a few sentences from the minute entered by the trustees on their records, to express their grateful appreciation of her services: ‘She was in many respects a remarkable woman. Her conscientious self-devotion was without limit, and long experience had developed in her the very highest qualities of a librarian: knowledge of books, organizing power, and a ready sympathy with students. More remarkable than these traits, perhaps, was the promptness with which she adapted herself to the great enlargement of the library and that transformation of its methods which accompanied its removal to a new building. . . . The plan of an addition to the building, with special reference to the needs of the children, was largely hers; she was spared to see its completion, and met her death while placing the new rooms in order. She died literally in harness, as she always wished to die; and her name will be forever associated with the most important formative period of her beloved institution.’

After Miss Hayward's death the care of the library devolved for several months upon the first assistant, Miss Etta L. Russell, who proved herself altogether competent for it, but declined to be a candidate for the librarianship. Mr. W. R. L. Gifford, of the New Bedford Public Library, was elected to the vacancy, and entered upon his duties in March, 1895. The results of his first year's service indicate that this was a happy choice.

The past history of the library is a chapter in her annals of which Cambridge may honestly be proud, and the future is full of promise.

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