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History of the Wallingford Public Library

The Wallingford Public Library was organized October 4, 1881, with a fund of $1,000 and a book stock of 1,384 volumes, some of which had come from an earlier social library, “The Old Town Library,” which had operated from 1833 to 1867. That first annual meeting was held in the Congregational Church parlors and the first president was Mrs. H.M. Tenney, wife of the Congregational minister.

The Library’s original name was The Ladies’ Library and Reading Room Association and it was incorporated by a Special Act of the State Legislature, dated March 15, 1882. The objectives of the Association were to advance civilization through the cultivation of the intellect; to stimulate a thirst for scientific and useful knowledge; to promote the interests of education in general; and to encourage the more educating and refining influence of society.

The Library had various locations. The Wallace Block and the Simpson Block, were early homes. The Association required an annual membership fee for borrowing privileges. It did, however, maintain a free reading room. Financial support came from dues and from money raised through such projects as food sales, lectures and amateur theatricals.

There is a brief record of an early Librarian, Miss Emma Lewis, described by some as a martinet who would not let young people under sixteen borrow books. Others, however, complimented her on the cheerful, careful manner in which she recommended books for students and credited her with making the Library a great promoter of education in the Borough.

The Library at 60 North Main StreetM. dEtte Simpson, daughter of Samuel Simpson, wealthy local industrialist and benefactor, was a member of the Association. She predeceased her father, and in 1894 he bequeathed in her memory land at 60 North Main Street along with $25,000 for a building and $20,000 for an endowment fund. Little Miss Margaret Tibbits, great-granddaughter of Samuel Simpson, laid the cornerstone on September 21, 1899. Eighty-three years later on September 12, 1982, the same Margaret Tibbits, now Mrs. Herschel Taber, laid the cornerstone for the present Library.

In 1899, the Library became in fact a free public library when the Town passed the first appropriation of funds. The Town stipulated that funding would continue as long as the Library was maintained as a free public institution, and the Association stipulated that the Library would remain free as long as the Town continued its support. Among the consultants who recommended that the Library be made free was Addison Van Name, Librarian of Yale University.

The laudable, public-spirited purpose of the founders, the Library’s transition from an essentially private, dues-paying Association to a free, tax-supported public library, and the substantial part played by a local benefactor, are typical steps in the evolution of the American free public library as pointed out by the late Jesse H. Shera in his classic, Foundations of the Public Library.

The first professional librarian was hired in 1923, and a revision in techniques and procedures took place. An addition was completed in 1931 providing additional stack space, a cataloging department and a Children’s Room; and in 1935 a branch library was built in Yalesville on land provided by that community.

During the Depression, World War II and the postwar years, the Library was in a period of low salaries, inadequate book stock and generally poor financial support. In 1958 the name was legally changed to the Wallingford Public Library Association and membership was opened to men as well as women.

In 1962, a thorough reorganization was carried out. The building was extensively renovated, and services and administration were modernized. Increased financial support from the Town made it possible to improve and enlarge the book stock and employ a well-trained staff with improved salary schedule and fringe benefits.

The original building, with the 1931 addition, served as the Town Library until 1982. The problem of insufficient space had become so acute by 1976 that it was necessary to transfer the juvenile collection to Yalesville, making that branch into a Children’s Library.

A new Library, constructed at 200 North Main Street by the Town at a cost of $3,200,000 and opened in June, 1982 was enthusiastically received by the public and has made possible a whole new range of community activities as well as a greatly increased use of printed materials.

The Library in 1996The 1982 building was designed with an open and flexible floor plan that would accommodate many changes in its 25 year life span. There were no computers for either staff or public use when the building opened in 1982. Shortly after, the Wallingford Public Library joined with the Meriden Public Library, the Russell Library in Middletown, the Guilford Free Library, the Public Library of New London, and the Otis Library in Norwich to form Libraries Online (Lion) a library consortium that has grown to 27 members to share resources and support technology for its members.

Media including VHS, CD, and DVD formats became increasingly important library services throughout the 80’s and 90’s. The growing importance of the Internet and the need for public access to this vital information source greatly impacted library services for the new century. In 1994 the Library closed its card catalog, and in 1995 WPL introduced an Internet home page.

In 2000, the Library Board of Managers identified space as the most important priority for improving and maintaining service, and in 2005 the Town of Wallingford agreed to fund a $12,065,000 expansion of the library building at 200 North Main Street.

The Library in 2008The 67,000 square foot renovated and expanded building was dedicated in May, 2008 with beautifully expanded areas for children, teens, Internet users, and readers.

The Library has become a community center for Wallingford, and is fulfilling with contemporary methods the purpose stated by its founders over 125 years ago.

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