What do the towns of Greenwich, Stamford, Fairfield, West Hartford and Manchester have in common?
Did you guess?
GREAT LIBRARIES is the correct answer!!!! That’s right, in Manchester, the library circulation numbers are just below the numbers for Greenwich, Stamford and Fairfield and comparable to West Hartford. However, Manchester has a much smaller library and only 25 parking spaces! Must be a lot of motivated readers in town.
Did you know that the Manchester Public Library got its start in the Cheney Mills in 1840? At that time the mills were smaller wooden structures, not the large brick buildings which dominate the west end of Manchester today. The women who skeined the silk worked in a large room together. The work was monotonous and they decided that while working they wanted someone to read to them. That was multitasking in the good old days! So, they pooled their money and started buying books. In all, they bought 150 books of which the library today still has 125 original copies. We saw a couple of them at the Manchester Government Academy Meeting last Thursday.
In 1850, these women decided they would like to have a circulating library and petitioned the town. All of the books previously purchased by the mill workers had been non-fiction. Some people wanted to add fiction to the collection. There were discussions and disagreements because another group thought non-fiction was all that should be allowed. You could call it fiction friction. But, eventually, it was agreed that both fiction and non-fiction books would be purchased. The books were first housed in the office of the Cheney Brothers and later moved to the basement of Cheney Hall. In 1880, the books were moved to a house on Wells St where they remained until the fire of 1913. During the fire, many of the books were saved using a bucket brigade in reverse or book saving brigade. The books were then moved to a house on Main St. Circulation increased with this more central location.
In 1937, labor was cheap because of the depression. Skilled craftsman worked for a dollar a day using WPA funds and matching town funds to construct what today is known as the Mary Cheney Library or the Main Branch of the Manchester Public Library. The Whiton Branch is a smaller building located in the north end of town. With a budget of $3 million and a full-time staff of 25, the library offers books, ebooks, audiobooks, downloadable movies, museum passes, kits for teachers and families, CDs, DVDs and lots of programs.
One interesting program is the Silk City Board Game Group which was mentioned in the Money Magazine write-up of Manchester’s #1 ranking. There is also a Read in the Park Day, Author Talks, a Mystery Book Club and a Cookbook Club to name a few. There are children’s programs that focus on literacy and a love of reading. Stay tuned for a follow-up library post on the Toddling Tots Program which I attended with my granddaughter, Rose.