49 Madbury Road - Durham, NH 03824 - durhampl@gmail.com - 603-868-6699

History of the Durham Public Library

State Legislature approves a library for Durham; provides no funding.

Benjamin Thompson and Joshua Smith organize the Durham Agricultural Library, funding it from the proceeds of one of Thompson's hay fields.

Durham Social Library is formed. A "subscription" library, it costs $2 for an annual subscription, which allows the subscriber to checkout one book at a time. Shares are $5, and shareholders can take out two books at a time.

The Durham Library Association is formed to enable Durham access to state money. Their purchases are housed (but separately inventoried and labeled!) with the holdings of the Durham Social Library to form the first Durham Public Library, housed in the Richardson Building on lower Main Street.

The town receives a legacy from Mrs. Lydia Smith to purchase "suitable books" for the library. With more volumes, the library is remodeled in 1896.

Hamilton Smith leaves a $10,000 legacy to build a new public library. His executor chooses the old Benjamin Thompson homestead as the site.

There are now three library systems coexisting in the small town of Durham. The Durham Public Library Trustees agree to consolidate with the Durham Library Association and the New Hampshire College Library. The collections were housed at New Hampshire College until they can be moved to the new library.

The Hamilton Smith Library opens on campus. Funding is also provided by Andrew Carnegie who donates $20,000 toward its construction.

Library books now have a central location, but are still inventoried and handled as separate collections. Schools are able to borrow 12 books each at the beginning of the school year, and "deposit libraries" are established in many private homes, essentially creating branch libraries in the various neighborhoods. This creates enough of a shortage at the main library that time restrictions are initiated.

New Hampshire College becomes the University of New Hampshire; the town's contribution to the budget remains $100 a year throughout the 1920s.

Through private donations and grants, a Children's Room is built, dedicated to Charlotte Thompson, the librarian from 1903-1939. It is noted in Durham, New Hampshire: A History 1900-1985, that ". . . the New Hampshire artists working for the Work Projects Administration painted murals for the interior walls of the library. The eggs sued to stabilize the tempera paints came from the university's poultry barns."

Also noted in Durham, New Hampshire: A History 1900-1985, is a quote from David Jolly, the librarian in 1940 , who appealed to the town for funds even more urgently than his predecessors: "Shoddy, shabby books possess little to attract children to them. Books which need repair but cannot receive it soon become total losses." His request for funding was denied.

Former state librarian Thelma Brackett studies the resources of the library and presses for more funding. The town appropriates $300 starting in 1943.

Durham Library Association disbands.

The library on the UNH campus moves to its current site. There is a room for browsing and the children’s collection, designed for non-academic reading.

The town’s appropriation is $500; there are so few children’s books available that the library recalls all loans to local schools so there would be books on the shelves.

The town increases its contributions to $1,000. Miss Thelma Brackett retires after nearly twenty years as librarian.

The university library is renamed the Ezekiel Dimond Library. They adopt a statewide library card system to allow all New Hampshire citizens access to their collection.

Responding to concerns from members of the community, the Town Council appoint a Library Services Task Force to investigate library services available to townspeople. Information is gathered from publicized and well-attended meetings, surveys, and consultation with library service experts. The town is now paying $42,700 a year for use of the Dimond Library space.

Town Council receives the Task Force report: While Dimond Library is a fine academic institution, it is not designed to meet general readership needs in terms of access, staffing, hours, and collection development. A community library is recommended. No action is taken.

Also received by the Council is a report from the Community Development Task Force, comprised of several hundred residents to look at business, economic and community issues. This group also stressed the importance of a community library and central gathering place. No action is taken.

UNH begins planning for a complete remodeling of the Dimond Library. Their central mission is to provide academic and research materials and they want more space to meet this standard. A committee from the town and university is created to negotiate an agreement to divide the university and town library services. All parties agree that needs have changed since the initial agreement in 1906.

Two public hearings and a public forum are held to solicit public opinion, and the draft is refined into an agreement.

Dec. 6, 1996
Dr. Leitzel signs agreement with the Town of Durham: The university will transfer all books and furniture in the children’s and browse rooms to the public space; Durham residents and ORDSD faculty will have continued access to Dimond materials; $250,000 will be given to the town for library services; Durham residents will no longer be required to pay the university for town use.

March 1997
By a margin of 2-1, Durham voters pass a charter amendment to establish a Board of Trustees and allow plans for a new library to go forward.

July 1997
A temporary space is found for the new Public Library in a storefront between the dollar store and a pizzeria. Under the guidance of the Trustees and a newly formed Friends of the Library group, many volunteer townspeople come forward to sheetrock, paint, assemble shelves, and unpack and shelve 719 boxes of books.

July 21, 1997
A dedication ceremony is held for the new library, with Governor Jeanne Shaheen as the keynote speaker. It is the first new public library to be established in New Hampshire in almost a century.