Library building

Keene Public Library

History of the Library

Keene Public Library opened in its present building in 1898. The library is governed by its Board of Trustees and is a municipal library and part of the City of Keene. It is a 509(a)(1) nonprofit organization.

Significant Dates in the History of the Library

  • 1782 - The home of the Rev. Aaron Hall, a minister of the First Congregational Church in Keene for nearly 40 years, was built on the present Keene Public Library site. There was interest in a library in Keene as early as 1795, if not earlier.
  • 1801 - The first long-continuing attempt was the Social Library Society, of which Aaron Hall was librarian. The books were kept in the home of Rev.Hall, at the same location as the present library building. Though the name was changed several times as the 19th century progressed, essentially, it remained the same thing -- a library for the citizens of Keene. Among early active supporters of the enterprise were Judge Daniel Newcomb, Moses Johnson, Colonel Issac Wyman, Joel Parker, Salma Hale, Dr. Amos Twitchell, General Justus Perry, Rev. Dr.Barstow, and Rev. A. A. Livermore.
  • 1857 - Though there were other smaller libraries, such as the Cheshire Athenaeum and the Cheshire Theological Institute, they could do little to meet the growing demand for a general reference library. In December, there was a meeting of interested citizens, and subscriptions were procured to the amount of $1,000, in shares of $5 each. Keene Public Library was organized under the general laws of the State of New Hampshire, with a board of 12 trustees. The library occupied space over the store at Elliot's Block on the corner of West Street.
  • 1859 - When it began circulation on September 3, the library had 42 volumes of public documents, 53 bound volumes of the New Hampshire Sentinel, about 1,000 new books, and many works from former libraries, giving a total of 2,644. Leonard Bisco was librarian for several years.
  • 1864 - The lot of the present library building was purchased from the daughter of Rev. Hall by Henry Colony, the first president of the Manchester and Keene Railroad.
    He was the great-grandson of John Colony, who came to the colonies in 1740 at ten years of age and later fought in the French and Indian Wars with Rogers Rangers.
  • 1869 - Mr. Colony's home, the current home of the Library, was completed. The woodwork was done in black walnut, a style very popular at that time. The statue of Joan of Arc, still at the foot of the stairs in the present library, was in the original house. The armor on the figure is said to be authentically reproduced.
  • 1874 - Keene became a city in 1874, and in 1875 the shareholders relinquished their rights and turned the library over to the City as a free public library, as Dublin and Peterborough had already done. The City promised to appropriate funds for its support annually.
  • 1875 - The library was moved to the Colony Block. The librarian was Cyrus Piper.
  • 1877 - The library was moved to the second floor of the Warren Block on Washington Street.
  • 1880 -Lizzie Brooks reorganized the collection by subject using the Dewey decimal system and set up the library's first card catalog.
  • 1881 - This year, the library again moved to the north end of City Hall, which later became the Police Department. Miss Lizzie M. Converse was the librarian.
  • 1898 - Edward Carrington Thayer presented the Henry Colony house on West Street to the City for use as the public library. The mansion was remodeled, and a book stack was added.
  • 1899 - The finished building was dedicated on Feb.28th. Unfortunately, Mr. Thayer did not live to see the completion of the work, which was carried on according to his wishes by his wife and niece. Miss Myra F. Southworth was appointed librarian.
  • 1911- Mary Lucina Saxton came to Keene to serve as librarian. Her successful career spanned 36 years until she died in 1947.
  • 1912 - Through the financial generosity of Mr. and Mrs. John Symonds, a wing extending towards Winter St. was added and dedicated. For the first time, users had free access to the book stacks.
  • 1918 - The library helped educate Keene citizens during the influenza epidemic. Activities to support the war effort were conducted as well.
  • 1923 - A Children's Room was opened on the second floor of the Thayer building.
  • 1930s - The Depression saw an increase in the circulation of books to almost 100,000 a year. 20% of that was for children's books. 9,600 borrowers were registered, and the collection was about 30,000 items.
  • 1940s - The Library again served as a center to aid in war efforts and collected books to send to soldiers overseas.
  • 1947 - Charlotte Haskins became Librarian following the death of Miss Saxton
  • 1950 - The library inaugurated its audio collection, one of the first public libraries in the state to circulate phonograph records.
  • 1952 - Miss Kay Fox was named Librarian and served for 29 years.
  • 1953 - The Juvenile Department expanded to include a room of their own for children from pre-school through 6th grade.
  • 1957 - The microfilming of the Keene Evening Sentinel from 1799 to date was completed. The project had been started the previous year.
  • 1958 - The Wright Room, a reference section on New England history and genealogy, opened for adult research. This special room was made possible through the donation of 1500 New England historical and genealogical books and pamphlet material by John P. Wright.
  • 1961- Filmstrips were first circulated in the Audio-Visual Department.
  • 1966 - The Keene Lions Club donated a special unit of large print books. The Drama Workshop of the Keene Woman's Club began a weekly series of story hours for preschoolers.
  • 1967 - Space was added to the west side of the building to create a much-needed staff workroom.
  • 1968 - Upper Ashuelot, a history of Keene NH, was published, edited by Kay Fox, Library director.
  • 1974 - "Talking Books" on cassette were added.
  • 1980 - The library was renovated, and a large new section was added to house book stacks, the children's department, the auditorium, meeting room, and staff workrooms.
  • 1981 - Jane Perlungher became Library Director.
  • 1982 - The Friends of the Library group was formed.
  • 1983 - The first annual Friends of the Library book sale was held. The Library acquired its first computer, an Apple IIe, for public use.
  • 1986 - A modem hookup to the NH Automated Information System (NHAIS) was acquired.
  • 1989 - The Trustees launched a very successful fund drive and ultimately raised $300,000, matched by the City, to update the book collection.
  • 1991 - The library joined with Keene State College's Mason Library to purchase a joint computer system (Keene-Link) to automate the cataloging and circulation of materials. In anticipation, the shelf list (a staff card catalog) was sent off to be converted to digital records, and barcodes were then added to all 88,000 books and a-v materials.
  • 1992 - On September 28, the "online catalog" came online (with a very different look than it has now!), and materials were circulated using barcodes and barcoded patron cards. Staff also got Internet email access via Keene State College.
  • 1993 - The card catalog was removed, replaced by the online catalog.
  • 1994 - Most of the Wright Room's collection of genealogical and historical books were transferred to the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has a better facility for storing and caring for old materials.
  • 1995 - The World Wide Web came into being, and the Library started offering classes teaching the Internet.
  • 1996 - Public Internet use was begun (but no email allowed!).
  • 1998 - The library (and all of the books and AV materials!) moved to a temporary facility on Roxbury St. The building was extensively renovated and remodeled.
  • 1999 - Coinciding with the Library's 100th Anniversary, the new facility reopened.
  • 2002 - The Friends of the Library received a $500,000 bequest from Katharine Heberton, allowing for purchasing the Masonic building next to the Library.
  • 2009 - Approximately 18,000 cardholders checked out more than 326,000 items. 


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