The Liverpool Public Library’s roots in our community run deep. In December 1822, about 28 years after the community’s first settlement, a group of prominent local men met to discuss the establishment of a subscription (membership) library. On January 14, 1823, they chose trustees for the new Liverpool Library, and on January 30, the subscription library was officially incorporated and recorded in the Onondaga County clerk's office. A subscription share cost two dollars, a substantial amount at that time; for each share held by an individual, he was entitled to one book. Shares could be paid for in cash or in books. Members met quarterly to examine and exchange books and to determine fines. By 1831 the library owned 138 titles that included history, biography, travel, religion, and fiction, mostly well-known works of English literature.
While the subscription library was not a public library, it was a symptom of the growth of social networks, culture, and community action in the area. The Oswego Canal opened in 1828, running along Onondaga Lake below First Street in Liverpool village. The canal ran from the Erie Canal in downtown Syracuse to Oswego, New York on Lake Ontario, and connected the Liverpool community with the greater wide world of commerce, ideas, and culture. The village was incorporated in 1830, and community identity was confirmed with the growth of churches, a public school system, and social organizations. The members-only subscription library organization dissolved in 1843 and auctioned its collection. Perhaps a school library took over and surpassed the function of the subscription library by serving the entire community.
Prosperity and Self-Education
During the last part of the 1800s, the community supported increasing numbers of church-affiliated and secular social clubs, and adult education efforts. Three local newspapers were founded, and travelling lecture series were popular. A Temperance Union reading room was open every day, providing books, magazines and newspapers. The Liverpool Historical Society was founded in the early 1890s specifically for local women to read, research, and report their findings to each other. No records remain to indicate what library service may have been during this time. The earliest existing annual report for Liverpool Public Library is for the year 1892-93, when the library was evidently already well established. Librarian Charles F. Lyon reported that in 1892-1893, 601 books were on the library shelves and that circulation was 540. Mr. Lyon described the library as a school district library, supported by taxes and state aid, which was free for reference and lending. The library was open four hours a week, and Mr. Lyon received $25 a year.
Liverpool Public Library Charter
The Board of Education transferred library property to the Liverpool Public Library on February 10, 1893. On June 21 of the same year, provisional charter No. 739 was issued to the library board; requirements for permanent charter were only partially fulfilled at this time because the library was not open a sufficient number of hours. Some of the authors represented in the library in its first year as a public library were Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, and Alexandre Dumas. The library offered children's books as well, among them books by Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; Swiss Family Robinson and the Arabian Nights. The children's shelves also held non-fiction, such as Butterfly Hunters in the Caribbees, Boy Travellers in Japan and China, and by an anonymous author, What Darwin Saw. The children’s books were well used: nearly every juvenile title in the record book has a condition notation such as "rebound," "badly worn," or "worn out." When the board applied for permanent charter in 1901, the library had 998 books in good condition and 50 needing repair, with a total estimated value of $1070. Seven pamphlets and two maps completed the list of holdings. Bookcases to the value of $250 made up the furnishings of the library, which was located in an upstairs room of the 1848 grammar school building. The permanent charter was granted on July 1, 1901. The library was open 2 1/2 hours, two days a week.
In 1918, Adasa P. Hopper (later Gray) became librarian. Thanks in large part to Mrs. Gray’s vision, circulation leapt to over 10,000 in 1918, and by 1920 had doubled again. The library was open more hours, and Mrs. Gray actively pursued community connections. During Adasa Hopper Gray’s 40 years of service, library service grew and grew. During the 1940s, for example, Mrs. Gray ensured that the Liverpool Historical Society, the American Legion, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the Garden Club all made use of the library's services, as did village schools. During this time, Mrs. Gray's objectives were to persuade the patrons to read better literature, and to circulate as many books as possible on current topics. Mrs. Gray was devoted to the interests of the library, and worked against the odds of inadequate financial support and lack of help and space to advance the Liverpool Library, until her death in 1963. The years after World War II saw a dramatic change in community character, as the population exploded and decentralized to new housing developments and outlying areas, and the school system centralized to the greater Liverpool area. Despite the rapid increase in population, the library experienced some major problems during the 1950s. For some years the library moved from one location to another; it had been housed in five different locations. All were within one or two blocks of the center of the village, but it was not until 1958 that it was at last permanently established in the grammar school building, crammed into three rooms and a small office on the main floor of the old building. In 1952 the library was rechartered as a central school district library. But in 1959 the voters of the district rejected the library's budget of $11,000 twice, and the library closed. After a great deal of publicity, interested citizens held an open meeting to ask for support for the library. This time they were successful, and in November of 1959 the library reopened.
Home At Last
Liverpool Public Library revived during the 1960s and became a member of the Onondaga County library system in 1963. In 1964 Frances Carman was hired as the library’s first fully trained, full-time director. Ms. Carman’s major objectives were to bring the book and periodical collections up to par, to maintain a full schedule of open hours, and to make the best possible use of the services provided by the Onondaga Library System. Under her auspices, two more professional librarians were hired, making possible a wider variety of services to the public.
The 1848 Liverpool Union School, which had housed the school district administrative offices and the library toward the end of its existence, was finally demolished in 1975. The current Liverpool Public Library building took its place. At last the library had its own home.
Liverpool Public Library Today
Members of the 1822 subscription library had only books as the exclusive and expensive means of educating themselves. Later, even as a public library, we measured success only in terms of how many printed books the library owned and how many people checked them out. We now consume our information in many forms, but the library’s mission and position in the community have not changed. Now Liverpool Public Library’s success can be measured in material circulation, how many people walk through the door, program attendance, and more. Consider that in 2016 alone, community members checked out over half a million physical and digital items; over 300,000 people walked through the library’s doors, and about 23,000 people learned something new through library program attendance. Can’t come to the library? Join the 220,000 people who visited the library’s website, where they find connections to the great wider world of information resources. Or simply go to the park -- the library’s book bike may join you there. We are your library. Welcome to the community.