For one hundred and fifty-four years the City of Woburn has supported a public library. The first public library (1856) was actually located in the old town hall. It quickly outgrew the space and moved to Wade Block on Main Street in downtown Woburn in 1865. Soon, even these new quarters were inadequate for the busy library. A generous bequest from the Winn Family endowed the magnificent new library which was built on Pleasant Street and opened in 1879.
Although the town of Woburn soon became a city and the population grew, the library never grew along with it. The need for more space became evident by 1908 when the trustees commissioned a report on the library facility. That report suggested changes to the building to accommodate new uses – for example, a children’s room! This was a new idea which was just taking hold in public libraries across the country.
Space was finally set aside for the children. In 1914, the natural history museum which had been housed in the Octagon Room was moved to the attic and the Octagon Room became the Children’s Room. Although space for new collections and new media continued to be a problem, the Library received little attention until 1962 when another report (the “Shaffer Report”) recommended construction of an addition to the Library.
Part of the report read: “There is a shortage of shelving space for books in all areas—particularly shelving of a sort that permits casual and pleasant browsing. There is no office for catalogers, typists, and others engaged in non-public service activities. Toilets are inadequate. The library needs a small auditorium that not only could be used for concerts, lectures, and films, but which would also double for use in story-telling programs for children, discussion groups, and other group activities for the community.”
In 1965, the League of Women Voters published “Woburn Public Library: a critique” which supported the “Shaffer” recommendations.
Also in 1965, the library had seating for 55 adults and 21 children.
In 1970, the architectural firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott were commissioned to do a feasibility study. However, there was no financial support available to implement the recommendations.
In 1976, the Children’s Room was moved to the basement of the building. Here they co-exist with sprinkler pipes, water shut off valves and other denizens of basements.
In 1988, the library’s administrative desks (no offices existed) were moved from the main floor of the library to the second floor. The two aging administrators went along despite the winding stairs which were used to access the areas.
In 1995, library officials applied for state construction grant funds but were turned down since the proposed plan would not actually yield any improvement in library service.
In 1997, officials applied for and received a planning and design grant from the Board of Library Commissioners. This allowed them to hire a building programmer to assess the needs of the library and prepare a document which would act as the blue print for an architect.
In 1998, the building program was accepted by the Board of Trustees. and in 1999, the firm of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott was hired to do the design study.
Also in 1999, seating in the building was reduced to 50 seats for adults and 12 seats for children.
In 2001, library officials prepared another grant application for construction funds. However, they weren’t able to apply because the city was concerned about the size of the project.
In November 2002, the trustees hosted a public meeting for the community to come and be heard about the proposed library renovation/addition.
Also in 2002, there was seating for 37 adults and 6 children.
In 2005, library officials submitted another application to the Board of Library Commissioners for construction grant monies. The library was notified later in the year that the application had been recommended for funding. The award was based on the estimated funding for the addition and renovation at that time. Eventually the award (which was not authorized by the state until the summer of 2008) was increased to nearly $5 million dollars.
In 2009, the city allocated $300,000 to library officials to hire a project manager and an architect for the design phase. Design Techniques, Inc. was hired as project manager and the architectural firm, CBT, was selected to develop schematic plans and an estimate for the project.
Although this project began in earnest 15 years ago, it was really determined and understood that the building was too small back in 1908. Our library is also woefully lacking in equal access for all. And parts of the building are now “off limits” for safety and security reasons.