There are several collections of library records including administrative records of both the main library and the branch and many photographs.
The Franklin Library Association was formed on March 31, 1847 with Capt. Charles H. Bigelow, the engineer, under whom the great dam was built, functioning as the library’s first president. Abbott Lawrence donated $1000 to purchase books that would “tend to create mechanics, good Christians and good patriots.” An additional $5000 came to the association when Mr. Lawrence died in 1855.
For many years the Franklin Library Association was the solitary literary presence in Lawrence. The Lawrence Athenaeum would host a course of lectures for two seasons and the Lawrence Lyceum for another two or three years. Both societies would merge into the Franklin Library Association, which would present a series of twelve lectures a year for many years.
July 6, 1872 the association turned over its library and funds to the City of Lawrence. Consequently, the Free Public Library was born. At that time the library was housed in Saunders Block and due to its success, moved to rooms in the Odd Fellows Hall on Essex Street. Its first original building was located on the southwest corner of Hampshire and Haverhill streets at a cost of $50,000. It was opened to the public in 1892. George G. Adams, a local architect, designed the building in the Romance Revival style. In 1902 the new library was enlarged at a cost of $37,300.86. It was enlarged again in 1938. The South Lawrence branch was opened in a store near the railroad station, at 160 South Broadway, on August 1, 1898. An original building was constructed for use as a branch library and to replace the rented space on Broadway. The new library was opened for business October 10, 1927. It was located at 135 Parker St.
Parts of the main library building were condemned in 1965. A new library was built on the northeast corner of Haverhill and Lawrence streets. The three-story, two and one half million dollar building, was dedicated June 10, 1973. Both the main and branch libraries still exist and are in use (1999). The former library building became the Old Library Professional Building and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The original indexing system was a straight numerical system. The books from the Franklin Library and other purchases were indexed from number one and eventually stopped in the 9000s. When books were withdrawn, new books were used to fill in the spaces as well as continuing in numerical order. In the 1880s the original library remained static and new books were indexed in a cataloging system created by William Isaac Fletcher, the first director of the library. According to the Fletcher System books were still indexed numerically, but under broad subject areas that were designated by single letters. Again this cataloging system remained static when the library adopted the Dewey Decimal system in the 1960s. The Dewey Decimal System is still in use today (1999). A representative of the Fletcher indexing system is available in the Fletcher Library Collection. The Pacific Mills donated their employees’ library to the LPL in 1887. The Pacific Mills Library was established by the owners of the mills for the benefit of their workers, August 21, 1854. It was set up by a gift of $1000 and was maintained by the workers themselves by way of weekly pay deductions of one cent a week. In the 1990s the original volumes were weeded out of the library’s many collections and what remains of the original Pacific Mills Library is now (1999) a separate monograph collection called the Pacific Mills Monograph Collection.
The White Fund, created by Judge Daniel Appleton White, still provides a course of lectures annually and aids other educational enterprises. The fund also provided the land for the first library building.
After much pleading by the director, the library created its first children’s room in 1902. Today (2003) the library has an audio-visual department, a computer lab, a bank of Internet access computers, and a jobs resource center. A special collections reading room and a young adults department are in the planning stage.
The directors of the library were William I. Fletcher 1872-1874, Frederic K. Hedge 1874-1901, William A. Walsh 1901-1938 Richard L. Sullivan 1938-1956, John A. Griffin 1957-1975, James Kennedy 1975-1982, Barbara DeYoung 1982-1984, Joseph R. Dionne 1984-1999, David Hildt, acting director 2000, acting director, Sharon Doyle 2001-2, Javier Corredor 2002-2004, and Maureen Nimmo 2004-the present (2009).