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Library History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY

1869   Israel Crane and his wife invited friends and neighbors to organize a subscription library collection of about one hundred books.  There were 30 participating families.  The collection was housed under the counter at Betzler’s Drug Store on Bloomfield Avenue (then called Main), near the Presbyterian Church (now the site of the Hinck Building). The books were moved to the Pillsbury Building, also located on Bloomfield Avenue, and the library obtained a charter as the Montclair Library Association.

1871   The Montclair Library Association built a wood framed building on the east side of South Fullerton Avenue near Bloomfield Avenue, for $1,700.  Membership was three dollars and book rental was ten cents.  The Montclair Library Association was incorporated.

1880   The Montclair Library Association building burned down during a raging blizzard on February 28th.  Amazingly, most of the 2,192 books were saved, moved, and issued from Central School at Church Street and Valley Road for several years.

1893   Following New Jersey State legislation in 1890 authorizing the establishment of free public libraries, Montclair citizens voted on April 11 to establish a public, tax supported library.

1893   Funds and books from the Montclair Library Association were turned over to the newly established Montclair Free Public Library, which served all of Montclair’s 8,656 residents.  Its first quarters were on the second floor of Dr. John J.H. Love’s office at 16 Church Street.  Mary F. Weeks served as the first Library Director from 1893 1897.  Coincidentally, Dr. Love’s home was located at 50 South Fullerton Avenue, the current site of the Main Library.

1898   The library was moved to an abandoned inn called the Munn Tavern, bought for about $5,000 and renovated for an additional $1,000.  The Munn Tavern, which still stands today, was later moved back from the road and is now part of the Evangelical Covenant Church at 17 Valley Road.

1899   The first Branch Library was a rented room in the real estate office of John Mancini on Bellevue Avenue, near the train station.  Three hundred and fifty books from the Main Library formed the basis of this collection.

1902   The Carnegie Corporation gave $40,000 to Montclair to fund the construction of a library.

1904   After 35 years and six different locations, Montclair Public Library had its first purpose-built library building on the former site of the Munn Tavern.   The library at 73 Church Street served as the Main Library for 50 years.  This building is now part of the Unitarian Church, located at the intersection of Valley Road and Church Street

1906   The branch in Upper Montclair, called “Branch A,” operated out of a tiny rented shop and shared the same collection of books as the Church Street Library.  A local butcher volunteered to ferry books between the libraries on his daily delivery route.

1913   The Carnegie Corporation gave Montclair a second sum of $40,000 for the construction of the Bellevue Avenue Branch.

1914   The Bellevue Avenue Branch Library opened on December 26th of this year.  The original design of the building remains intact today.

1927   Margery Quigley became the sixth director of the Library and served in this capacity for almost 30 years.  She was credited with bringing about a revolution not just at Montclair Public Library but in libraries worldwide with her book Portrait of a Library, co authored with Montclair Public Library board president William Elder Marcus.  The book changed the concept of public libraries from that of a place for quiet reading to that of a dynamic information center. 

1933   Montclair townspeople were introduced to home delivery service of library materials.  This service is still offered by Montclair Public Library to homebound patrons.

1938   Montclair Public Library was given a grant of $3,500 by the Carnegie Corporation to study public library accounting methods with the goal of planning budgets more accurately and making libraries more efficient economically.

1940   The film Portrait of a Library, directed by Hans Burger and produced by Montclair Public Library, was distributed by the Museum of Modern Art and shown throughout the world under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State.

1942   In February, Montclair Public Library became the first public library in the United States to have a computerized circulation system. The International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) designed for the Library the first ever punch card data processing system and equipment to record the loan and return of books.   Librarians from all over the world visited Montclair to witness this pioneering venture.

1955   Having outgrown the library building on Church Street, its home for 50 years, a new Main Library was built.  The Davella Mills Foundation donated the former site of Dr. Love’s home at 50 South Fullerton Avenue as the site for the new library building.   They also contributed $250,000 toward the $800,000 construction cost.

1968   Arthur Curley was named the new director of Montclair Public Library.  He was credited with efforts to incorporate Montclair’s culturally and ethnically diverse community into library services.  In 1994, Curley was elected president of the American Library Association.  He was succeeded in this position by Betty Turock who, coincidentally, also succeeded him as director of Montclair Public Library in 1975.

1969   Montclair Public Library began community outreach with bookmobiles in parks, playgrounds and on neighborhood street corners.  Library use jumped 40 percent in two years as a result.

1970   The audio-visual collection and classic film series were established.  The first film screening was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

1973   Montclair Public Library established the Afro Ballet Ensemble, the only ballet troupe in the nation in residence at a public library.  Their repertoire included social and ceremonial dances from Africa, as well as original modern choreography. 

1974   Neighborhood Information Center Helps Everyone (NICHE) was initiated as a federally- funded community information and referral service. The goal of NICHE was to provide information as a catalyst for social change.  It existed in a storefront at 375 Bloomfield Avenue from 1974 1977.  It was fully incorporated into Montclair Public Library in 1979.

1979   The Library moved to a new-generation bar-code-based circulation/catalog system, streamlining the circulation process and enabling computerized catalog searches.

1980s   This was a time of rapid technological change. Old collections (slides, filmstrips, LP’s) were gradually discarded in favor of video and audio cassettes.  The Library also began to install personal computers with word processing capability and database access on CD-ROM (compact discs).

1985   The Bellevue Avenue Branch reopened after an eight-month renovation.  The building was restored to its original grandeur, removing the 1950s fluorescent stack lighting and reopening a full-service children’s room in its original location on the lower level.  Air-conditioning was added for the main floor.  The new Branch children’s room, “Kids’ Place,” was initially staffed by community volunteers.

1996   The Main Library closed for an extensive renovation and expansion.  The Library was moved to a temporary home at the YWCA on Glenridge Avenue.

1997   The web catalog was unveiled, allowing catalog access from all over the world via the World Wide Web.

1997   The Library moved back into the newly renovated building at 50 South Fullerton Avenue.  Highlights of the building include third-floor children’s area with separate programming spaces, a 170 seat auditorium, an art gallery, and a café.

2002   Montclair Public Library was named one of the top five libraries in the nation by Library Journal.  The Library also received the Bessie Bohme Moore Award for services to seniors in that year.

2002   Montclair Public Library Foundation was established to develop new financial resources exclusively for Montclair Public Library.  The Foundation is a nonprofit 501c3 organization that raises funds to extend the services and programs of the Library beyond what the municipal operating budget provides. 

2004   Montclair Public Library celebrated the Centennial anniversary of its first purpose built public library building on Church Street, the Library’s home for 50 years until a new building was erected on its current site at 50 South Fullerton Avenue in 1954. The Centennial was an opportunity to renew community appreciation for Montclair Public Library’s rich history and revitalize interest in Library assets.

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Main Library hours: Mon-Thu 10a-8p | Fri & Sat 10a-6p | Sun 1-6p
Bellevue Avenue Branch hours: Mon 10a-8p | Tue-Sat 2-6p | Sun closed
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