The Rockland Public Library was created by a partnership of individual citizens and organized City government in the 1890’s. Its first home was in the Spofford Block on Main Street above where the Grasshopper Shop is today. In 1901 when the trustees heard of Andrew Carnegie’s gifts for new libraries, they applied for funds. Mr. Carnegie said he would give $20,000 if the City would agree to provide the land and support the Library. After a gift of land from Emily Hitchcock & William Case and much community fundraising, on April 26, 1904, a beautiful new Library designed by architect William Clough, opened for the people of Rockland. Nancy Burbank was the first Librarian.
In 1979, the Library was named to the National Register of Historic Places. By the late 1980s, the building’s size, unchanged since the Library’s opening, was deemed inadequate to meet changing needs for collection development, computers, and storage. As support dwindled in economic hard times, a few determined volunteers recognized the Library’s needs and organized as the Friends of the Rockland Public Library in 1992. The Friends invited the Library’s Advisory Board to join them in their effort and together, they began a series of public discussions concerning the fate of Rockland’s century old building. The Friends’ struggle bore fruit, and a new organization was formed in 1996-- the Rockland Public Library Endowment Association. RPLEA was entrusted with the task of raising funds to restore and enlarge the Library, and begin the development of an Endowment Fund.
Under the PLEA’s leadership, supported by professional consultation and in partnership with City officials, the Library Advisory Board, Library staff, and Friends of the Rockland Public Library, planning for the Library’s future continued well into 1998, ending with a decision to undertake a capital campaign to build an addition to the Library, integrated with the original building. The fundraising goal was $3,000,000. Under Tom Putnam’s resolute guidance, and armed with an attractive design plan created by Camden architect Stephen Smith, the PLEA board and other volunteer solicitors pursued contributions from late 1998 into early 2000. The result – the goal of $3,000,000 was met by close to 1,000 donors.
Gifts ranged from a 7-year-old boy’s life savings of $20.28 to just over $1,100,000 from the combined generosity of MBNA New England and the Charles Cawley Family Foundation (for whom the Children’s Wing is named). Every bank in Rockland contributed. The Friends of Rockland Public Library gave an additional $30,000. Library patrons placed well over $1,000 in coins and bills in a “candy” jar at the Library’s circulation desk. In addition to the above-mentioned, five other foundations made substantial donations.
Today the Rockland Public Library remains a vital community center: an information resource and a place to connect with others. The Library provides access to an extensive collection within its walls and to an expanded collection via the shared system, Minerva; in addition to books and DVDs, the Library lends binoculars, ukuleles and drums. It gives access to downloadable audio- and eBooks, offers computers for internet access and office productivity software, and assistance with those, printing, free programs and events for the public, a fax machine, photocopier, assistance with patron-owned devices and a notary public. The staff provide research assistance and help navigating online government forms. It offers meeting space available for rent; and much more.
The Library is a City department; additionally, two groups--the Rockland Public Library Endowment Association, and Friends of Rockland Public Library continue to provide robust support of time, energy, and funds.
The current staff members are Amy Levine, Director, Patty King, Deputy Librarian, Katie Drago, Children’s Librarian, Teresa Verrill, Library Technician, Jessie Blanchard, Utility Librarian, and TBD, Reference & Circulation. Regular part-time staff are Ellen Hayes and Mary Jane Martin. Part-time substitutes are Barbara Bibro, Janet Corcoran, Mary Ann Giasson, and Kim Slocomb. Lastly, the new Sunday crew, led by Barbara or Janet, consists of Ellen, Marjorie Strauss, and Zachary Cornish.
A column from the Courier Gazette, February 6, 1926, is as fresh and relevant today as when it was penned:
In the Library Column by Kathleen Snow
“And so it passes, a stormy day at the Library. It is as we like to think of it- a common gathering place for those who love books and reading. Days of awesome silence are over. A Library is a cordial place, of intimate things. The deepest thoughts of the world are here, the innermost secrets of days that are past. But it is a live thing, for it fairly throbs with all that is new and outstanding in the world. It is the center of community life for it has something for all.
There is freedom here, warmth and pleasure. There are no lines; society, class, education know no boundaries here- it is the people’s gathering place, established by them and for them. Its only rule is to respect the other fellow, an equal right to enjoy the common property. Small wonder that those who have watched its growth and progress call it one of the greatest American Institutions.”
*Sources: Library Brochure; The Rockland Public Library: Its First Hundred Years, by Marjorie East, Roberta Axelson, and Mary Kaufman, and "Achieving the dream: a 21st century Library for Rockland", on Knox-Village Soup website, written by John Bird