"A librarian should be as unwilling to allow an inquirer to leave the library with his question unanswered as a shopkeeper is to have a customer go out of the store without making a purchase."
Samuel Swett Green, Head Librarian, 1867-1909
On December 23, 1859, the Worcester City Council passed an ordinance establishing the Worcester Public Library and accepted a gift of 7,000 books from Dr. John Green III, and 4,000 books from the Worcester Lyceum and Library Association to jumpstart the new collection. Initially located on the third floor of the Bank Block at Foster and Main Streets, by 1861 the Library occupied a new building at Elm Street (now the site of the Pearl Elm Garage) where it was to remain for the next 100 years. An addition to the original structure was built in 1891, and the small building known as the children's entrance was added in 1900.
The library was founded in 1859 and was originally housed in rooms in the Worcester Bank Block.
Zephiniah Baker served as Head Librarian until 1867. His successor, Samuel Swett Green, nephew of Dr. John Green, is internationally renowned for his contributions to public librarianship, including encouraging cooperation between libraries and schools, developing collections of reference materials, adding books in languages other than English, and promoting Sunday hours. During Samuel S. Green's tenure the Library was open 365 days a year.
Greendale (now Frances Perkins), Quinsigamond, and South Worcester branches were built in 1914 with funds provided by Andrew Carnegie and on land provided by Worcester industrialists. Carnegie himself came to Worcester for the laying of the cornerstones for the new buildings. The Billings Square branch opened in 1928, the Tatnuck branch in 1940, the Main South branch in 1945, and the Great Brook Valley branch in 1981. All branches were closed in 1990. However, Great Brook Valley reopened within a few months, and Greendale (Frances Perkins) resumed operations in 1992.
Overcrowding was in issue at WPL from the beginning and, in 1953, the Board of Directors asked for space for a new main library building in the Salem Square Redevelopment Project. Land was purchased for that purpose in 1959, the year WPL celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Library moved into its new location at 3 Salem Square in 1964. Over the next few decades it became apparent that more space was needed and plans for extensive renovation of the existing building were formulated. The project was shepherded through by WPL's first female Head Librarian, Penelope B. Johnson. After a two-year stay at a temporary location at 160 Fremont Street, WPL moved into a beautiful new building on October 22, 2001. Generations of Worcesterites have come to love their library and depend upon the services it provides. In addition, Worcester residents of all ages instantly recognize familiar WPL icons, including Cecily the Children's Room giraffe, the WPL owls, the Works Progress Administration-era murals by artist Rolf Nickerson, and the art glass doors designed by artist Stephen Knapp which grace the entrance of the Salem Square building.
Children's room at Billing's Square Branch