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Excerpt from History and Tradition of Shelburne, Massachusetts
Copyright 1958, Town of Shelburne, Massachusetts
Press of the Pond-Ekberg Company, Springfield, Massachusetts
The book was compiled by Mrs. Walter E. Burnham, Mrs. Elliot H. Taylor, Mrs. Herbert P. Ware, and Mr. Thomas W. Watkins, which was the History and Tradition of Shelburne Committee, 1958.
The Arms Library, located at the corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Shelburne Falls, serves the towns of Shelburne and Buckland. This Library was made possible by two benefactors: Major Ira Arms, who gave it its start with a bequest, and Mr. and Mrs. Francis R. Pratt, the donors of the present building.
The Arms Library was established in 1854 when Major Arms agreed to help finance an organization known as the Shelburne Falls Circulating Library Society, provided the new Library’s facilities be made available to all residents of the Shelburne Falls area. This Society had a membership list of forty men at the time; each paid an initial membership fee of one dollar, which was used for the purchase of books, and an annual fee of fifty cents which might be used for any purpose of the Library. Major Arms gave the new organization, to be known as the Arms Library of Shelburne Falls, four hundred dollars when the agreement was signed; he agreed to contribute two hundred dollars annually “during the rest of his natural life”; and to leave three thousand dollars to it in his will. These annual sums were to be used solely for the purchase of books; the bequest was to be kept as a permanent endowment, the income to be used for books only. The bequest finally proved to be five thousand dollars, and the income from the additional two thousand was available for any library purpose.
The management was to be in the hands of a self-perpetuating board of seven permanent trustees (“not more than three...shall belong to the same religious denomination”) plus two others to be elected annually by the “readers” or dues-paying members. The initial membership fee was to remain one dollar and the annual dues were to be determined from year to year by the trustees (“the assessments on all persons liable thereto being equal.”)
Later the endowment fund was increased by several gifts, notably one by Mr. George W. Mirick, but still there were financial difficulties. At one time the librarian’s salary was thirty dollars per year, out of which he paid for light and fuel.
A turning point in the history of the Library occurred in 1894 when, after considerable urging, the towns of Shelburne and Buckland each appropriated three hundred dollars toward the expenses of the Library. These amounts were gradually increased and the present appropriations are now eleven hundred dollars each. Coincidentally with this, the facilities of the Library were made available to all residents of the two towns, and the system of fees and dues was discontinued. Some years later, the composition of the Board of Trustees was changed: the number of permanent Trustees was reduced from seven to five, and of annual Trustees increased from two to four. These latter are now elected by the Board instead of by the readers, who had gradually ceased attending the readers’ meetings.
The books had first been kept in a room in the Bank Block which, in 1879, contained 4800 volumes. At that time the librarian was Mrs. Ozro Miller. Later the books were moved to the Stebbins Block, where Mrs. James Halligan served as librarian. When the Memorial Hall was completed in 1898, the Library was moved to rooms there, where it remained until the present building was finished in 1914.
The inadequacy of such arrangements had been apparent for a long time, and early in 1913 Mr. Francis R. Pratt, then of Greenfield but formerly of Shelburne Falls, and his wife, the former Lydia Taft. offered to give an appropriate library building in memory of his parents, Josiah and Catherine Pratt. Construction was soon begun and the building was dedicated in August, 1914. The speaker of the occasion was the Rev. O.P. Gifford of Brookline, Mass., a former resident of the Falls. This service was held in Memorial Hall and the music was furnished by a seven-piece local orchestra under the direction of Herman S. King.
This Memorial Building is an attractive structure of brick and stone, and is an excellent example of small—town library architecture. Heating and storage facilities are in the basement. Except for a small office for the librarian, the entire main floor is open, and all of the four distinct parts are visible from the entrance: the lobby itself, the reading room, the children’s wing, and the stack room. There are 18,000 volumes conveniently shelved in the building, and the capacity could be nearly doubled without changing the architecture. The building is owned by the town of Shelburne, and is under the control of a committee consisting of the chairman of the Board of Selectmen and four from the Library Trustees. This committee also manages a fund given in 1920 by William Pratt, son of the donors of the building, to assist in its maintenance.
The centennial anniversary of the Library was observed on December 16, 1954. In the afternoon an appropriate birthday party was held for the juvenile patrons, complete with motion pictures, story telling by Miss Gwendolyn Vannah of the State Regional Library Center, and birthday cake for all. In the evening there was a brief historical talk by the President of the Trustees, Edward A. Milne; an address on "The Public Library in a Small Community" by H.B. Hatch, Assistant Librarian of the University of Massachusetts; and shorter talks by Miss Vannah and by Charles de Grasse, also of the Regional Center. As a highlight, Mrs. Mary Hall Davison was presented with a gift in honor of her thirty years’ service as Assistant and Librarian, the longest of any term.
Mr. Milne had been very active and influential in the formation of the State Regional Library Center in Greenfield, and his work there and at Arms won him the 1954 award as "Trustee of the Year” among the libraries of the State.
In 1957, the last full year before this book went to press, the circulation was 21,256 volumes. The purchases totaled 262 volumes, including 90 juvenile and 45 adult non-fiction. Gifts added 72 more volumes, and nearly 1000 were loaned to the Library by the Regional Center, each to be included for a few weeks in the books to be circulated from here. Included also were several volumes on Art and Science purchased with the income of a fund of $500 given for that purpose. The total budget for the year was $3,475.43.
Fifteen librarians have served during the past 103 years:
- Stephen T. Field
- Royal Packard
- Zebulon W. Field
- Eliza Maynard
- Mrs. A. Kellogg
- Mrs. Ellen A. Miller
- Mrs. Flora Halligan
- Rev. Daniel W. Wilcox
- Charles P. Hall
- Mrs. Mary Hall Davison
- Mrs. Helen Williams
- Miss Lois Griffin
- Mrs. Dorothy Geiger
- Mrs. Jennie Milne (acting)
- Mrs. Marguerite C. Allen
S.T. Field also served as Trustee for fifty years. Rev. Wilcox, who had returned to his native town after retiring from the ministry, recatalogued all the books according to a system that was continued in use for many years. Mr. Hall had previously been superintendent of schools here for a long term; his daughter, Mrs. Davison, was his assistant in the Library for three years and then served as librarian for twenty-seven years. Mrs. Milne, for several years assistant librarian, served as acting librarian from Mrs. Geiger's untimely death until Mrs. Allen was elected.
Twenty-five men and women have served as Trustees for periods ranging from ten years each up to fifty. Many more have served for shorter terms.
An oil portrait of Major Arms hangs over the fireplace in the children's alcove; a crayon of Mr. Mirick is in the librarian's office; and a bronze plaque over the circulation desk commemorates Mr. and Mrs. F.R. Pratt and Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Pratt.