Watertown Library Celebrating 150 Years With a Gala, Seeks Art Submissions

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A postcard showing what the Watertown Free Public Library building looked like. It was built in 1884. The date of the postcard is not known.

The Watertown Free Public Library has come a long way since it opened on March 31, 1869. In early April, the Library will host a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the library.

The library has not always been in its present location. It did not move far from its original home, in the old Town Hall where the CVS is now located, and it now has its own dedicated space. That was not always the case, said Watertown Library Director Leone Cole.

“It was the Town Hall, jail, and library — all together,” Cole said. “In 1883, money was raised to build this building. It opened in 1884.”

Solon Whitney was the first librarian, and he served in that role for 50 years.

The 1884 section of library remains as part of the existing building. The first addition was the Hunnewell Room, added to the west side of the library in 1899. A glass addition was added to the front of the building on the east side in 1955. The largest addition was completed in 2006.

At one time there were three branch libraries: the North opened in 1926 on Orchard Street, the East started in 1927 on Mt. Auburn Street, and the West, part of the Browne School (now the Police Station) opened in 1930. The North and East lasted for about nine decades, but closed in 2006.

A view of the Watertown Library’s circulation desk, circa 1902.

The Gala

The history and future of the Watertown Library will be celebrated at 150th Anniversary Gala, on April 6, 2019, from 7 to 9 p.m.

“We are going to have a party. We are calling it a Gala,” Cole said. “Everyone in the community is welcome, and we would have to have an RSVP.”

At the event, the Library will have activities for children and teens. The Gala will also include food, and the Library has applied for a one-day beer and wine license for the event, Cole said.

To RSVP, go to this web page: https://www.watertownlib.org/472/150th-Anniversary.

The Gala website also has an interactive timeline of the Watertown Library’s history and information about submitting art to be displayed at the Gala.

“We have a call for art. We would like people to create works of art based on their experience at the library,” Cole said. “We will showcase it on the night of the Gala; and showcase our art, that sometimes goes unnoticed.”

The 150th anniversary artworks will be on display through the end of April. The Library also has a display of historic photographs in its exhibition space.

The Library in the Future

The Little Beats Dance Academy program in the Watertown Free Public Library’s Children’s Room.

While she has not been at the Watertown Library for 150 years, Cole has been at director of the Library since 1995, and said she plans to stay.

“I think this is the best library in Massachusetts,” Cole said. “Why go somewhere else, when you have the support of the Town, great staff and great patrons?”

People flock to the Watertown Library. The library has the most hours of any library building in Massachusetts, being open 70 hours a week. As a system it had the 31st most total hours in 2017, according to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. While Watertown ranks 47th in the Bay Stater in population, its library had the 10th highest total circulation in the state (694,796 items in 2017), and the 10th highest number of visitors (433,896 in 2017).

Cole said the library is looking for ways to offer new things that people want. Some things remain the same, like the public wants access to the latest bestsellers. But libraries are offering much more than books. The library has DVDs, audio books, and CDs, as well as digital versions: online streaming of music and videos. The library also has books in many languages besides English.

Some other offerings include a telescope, museum passes, and the library recently began adding puzzles, Cole said.

Sometimes it is not something to check out that people want. Meeting rooms are one of the Library’s most popular features, Cole said. Also, some of the programs at the library have become popular. There are programs for children, teens, and adults.

“People love our yoga program,” Cole said. “It was going to be a limited time, but it got so popular we are going to continue it.”

A view of what the current Watertown Free Public Library.

In 2014, the Library opened the Hatch Makerspace, where people can learn skills and use equipment to make a variety of things. First it was located in the old Arsenal Mall, and in 2017 it moved to 20 Summer St. There patrons can take classes and work with experts to learn new skills.

The Movie Mondays also draw a crowd.

“It started three years ago and we had a handful of people,” Cole said. “Now tons of people come.”

Each year, the Watertown Library hosts a townwide book club of sorts, the One Book, One Watertown program. A title is chosen and people are encouraged to read it and take part in events associated with the them of the book.

This year’s book is “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean, and the author is coming to an event on April 4 (which is sold out). See more One Book, One Watertown events by clicking here.

Cole said the subject of the book fit well with the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Watertown Library. The book is about a fire that struck the Los Angeles Public Library, and how libraries have evolved in America.

For more information about the Watertown Free Public Library go to watertownlib.org or call 617-972-6431.

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