Springfield Library to celebrate its centennial in April

Feb. 28, 2013
This is the library building that was replaced by the current Central Library building at the same location on State Street near the corner of Chestnut St. It was demolished after the near library opened.
Reminder Publications submitted photo
By G. Michael Dobbs


SPRINGFIELD — Andrew Carnegie — or rather, a spitting image of him — personally invited the area to attend a special gala marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Springfield Central Library.

"Carnegie" — actually local actor Ken Guerin — made his remarks at the press event on Feb. 21 announcing "An Evening with Andrew Carnegie" that will be presented at the library from 7 to 10 p.m. on April 20. The gala will feature a performance by the Eric Bascom Trio with vocals by Ethel Lee.

The real Carnegie, the Scottish-born 19th century industrialist and philanthropist, gave millions of dollars to communities throughout this country and others for libraries. City Library Director Molly Fogarty noted that Carnegie, who immigrated to this country as a child, grew up at a time when many libraries required a membership fee. He was committed, she added, to the idea that libraries should be free.

In Springfield, Carnegie issued a challenge grant: he put up $260,000 and the residents of the city raised $155,000, according to the library's official history. The money raised constructed the Central Library and three branches: Indian Orchard, Forest Park and Memorial Square — that building is now part of the Greek Cultural Center.

The current Central Library is on the site of its predecessor, a building that was outgrown by 1892. It was lifted off of its basement and moved on rollers 200 feet back from its foundations into the Quadrangle to allow uninterrupted library service during the time of construction the new building.

According to the library's "1909 Annual Library Report" to assist in the moving of the library, Springfield residents were asked to check out "six works of fiction and any reasonable number of other books" to assist in the move.

The new library opened on Jan. 10, 1912. An Italian Renaissance Revival style building, it was designed to hold 500,000 books. Fogarty said the Springfield system has 750,000 items with the Central Library home to 400,000 items.

Fogarty said that Carnegie was an advocate of open stacks. Typically in 19th Century libraries, patrons would request a book, which would be retrieved from the stacks by a librarian. Open stacks allowed people to browse, which Carnegie believed aided education.

The announcement of the gala was conducted in the library's rotunda, which was restored to its original look in 1998. A careful look around the feature reveals the face of the Greek goddess of wisdom, Minerva, Corinthian columns and an amber tinted glass dome. A bust of Carnegie, seasonably adorned with a scarf, is also on view.

The proceeds of the gala will go to The Friends of the Springfield Library, which then will sponsor numerous programs such as the library's summer reading club. Acknowledging the financial challenges facing the city, Fogarty said the city is working with a consultant to devise a plan to become "a sustainable library system."

She said that 80 percent of the library's budget comes from the city and she would like to increase the amount that comes from private and corporate support.

Mary Ann Maloney, president of The Friends of the Springfield Library noted that demand for the library's services have increased. In 2012, 183,000 items were checked out by adults and teens and 52,000 items by children. The building's free wirelesses Internet as well as public computers were logged into 51,000 times last year.

Fogarty cited one financial challenge the library would like to overcome: finding the $2 million necessary to add air conditioning to the 100-year-old building.

Mayor Domenic Sarno did his best at the press event to convince Carnegie to make an additional donation to the city. The 178-year-old didn't have a response.

MassMutual Financial Group will sponsor "An Evening with Andrew Carnegie" with additional support from local businesses, the Springfield Museums, and the MassMutual Academic Achievers. "An Evening with Andrew Carnegie" coincides with National Library Week.

All proceeds from the event will benefit the Friends of the Springfield Library. Tickets are $50 per person. Tickets can be purchased by contacting the Spirit of Springfield at 733-3800 or staff@spiritofspringfield.org.

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