NH aims for library in every community

Editor’s Note: This was submitted by Michael York, acting commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources. The New Hampshire State Library is celebrating its 300th anniversary throughout 2017.

When you travel around New Hampshire, do you ever take a moment to notice our public libraries? You should – they are an important part of our communities and big part of how we think of ourselves as a state.

New Hampshire’s tradition of a library in every town or city began with social libraries of the early 19th century. To borrow books from a social library, you had to pay a membership fee, usually one to join and then monthly or annual fees after that.

From 1790-1839, more than 200 social libraries were founded in the state. They might have been located in a room in someone’s home, at the town hall, or in their own building.

In 1833, the Peterborough Town Library became the first public library in the United States, as it was funded by public taxes approved at Town Meeting. This started a new era for libraries in New Hampshire: With the rise of the public library, taxpayers had direct input about not only the amount of funds designated to support their library, but also about the type of building that it would be. In New Hampshire, the variety of library buildings you can visit is as unique as the communities in which they are located. Some are more than 100 years old.

Beginning in the 1890s, New Hampshire philanthropists donated funds and sometimes buildings to make homes for libraries in more than a dozen communities. Andrew Carnegie awarded grants to build 10 Carnegie libraries in the state; all still serve their communities as libraries, with the exception of Hamilton Smith Hall at the University of New Hampshire.

Today, the combination of donations, taxes and funding through bonds are still major driving forces in how New Hampshire pays for its building projects. As needs change, communities choose to construct additions or renovate their space so they can offer up-to-date services.

This long history proves that New Hampshire appreciates its libraries as cornerstones of our communities.