The Newton Public Library looks a lot different now than it did when it first opened its doors in 1886. Today the library wraps up its 125th anniversary celebration, and library staff members have been reflecting on how the library has grown and evolved throughout the years. Many of the programs library patrons enjoy today wouldn’t have been around in the late 1880s. “In the early days, it would have been strictly books,” said Susan Bartel, a supervisor at the library. “... There was no online library.” Although the Carnegie Library at 203 N. Main St. is commonly thought of as the original site of the Newton library, one of the first locations of the Newton Free Library actually was the Randall Building at 501 N. Main St. The library moved to 203 N. Main St. in the early 1900s after Andrew Carnegie donated $15,000 for a new building. The library moved to its current location at 720 N. Oak in the early 1970s. Records indicate the library had 2,279 books back in 1891. The library has expanded a bit since then — as of 2011, it had more than 90,000 items in its collection. In addition to books, that collection now includes DVDs, audiobooks, ebooks and devices known as “Playaways.” These self-contained units are similar to an MP3 player and can be used to listen to an audiobook. All you have to do is plug in a pair of headphones, or plug the device into your car’s stereo system. There wasn’t a children’s department in the library’s early days — that didn’t come until 1937. However, there are records of a children’s story time back in 1910. Modern libraries also are looking for more ways to collaborate and share resources, and online databases are beginning to replace some print reference materials. Bartel said computer access has become an increasingly important service offered by the library. People who might not have a computer of their own can come to the library to apply for jobs or check an email account. They also can take classes to learn more about computers. “Libraries are there to help bridge that divide for people who don’t have those resources or can’t afford those resources,” she said.
Looking ahead
Despite the many changes the library has experienced, in a way it also is returning to its roots. In the Carnegie days, the library would offer lectures, musical performances and art exhibits, and the library is making more of an effort to feature these types of events again. Staff members said it’s tough to predict what the library will look like in 2136 — another 125 years in the future. Some of the trends experts are predicting include the evolution of libraries into “creative spaces” or “think tanks.” For example, patrons would be able to come to the library and use woodworking tools to create a project; use media to produce a video; or access a 3-D printer. “Those are the type of things that will become more available,” library director Marianne Eichelberger said. “You just have the space available where you can have access to the tools to do what you need to do,” Bartel added.