Fast friends: Libraries and their behind-the-scenes volunteers

Courtesy photo The Greek Revival Hollis Social Library building as it appears today. The original section was dedicated in 1910

Sometimes when I hear or read about a public library’s “Friends of” group, I wonder, is there really anyone out there who would call themselves an “enemy of” the library?

Well, there is one case I can think of that’s kind of in the ball park, but I won’t go as far as to label this particular gentleman an “enemy” of Nashua’s library – he just didn’t like to see too many taxpayer dollars spent on maintaining it.

Needless to say, he certainly wasn’t going to support building a new library, even when a very generous Nashua couple offered up a donation that would have covered a big chunk of the cost.

At any rate, that was long ago; the library was eventually built and continues to thrive today – thanks in large part to an active “Friends of” group.

I got the idea to write about these friends when Lori Dwyer, president of the Friends of the Hollis Social Library, told me she had been doing some research into the library’s history while preparing for Hollis’s observance of National Friends of Libraries Week – which gets underway today.

All libraries in Greater Nashua have an active Friends group, and from what I can see they’re always welcoming new members. Friends are volunteers, but dues are next to nothing; they prefer to raise funds with community events like book sales, kids’ fun days, food sales and, of course, donations from the community.

As for National Friends of Libraries Week, Hollis plans to celebrate with cupcakes, wine and books – but not all at the same time.

An after-school Cupcake Decorating Extravaganza for kids age 9-13 will take place Monday (tomorrow) from 4-5:30 p.m. in the library’s community room. Register at the library as soon as possible, as the class is limited to 20 participants.

It’s the adults’ turn to celebrate on Friday, Oct. 26, with a wine tasting and pairing class at WineNot Boutique, 221 Main St. in Nashua. It runs from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and is limited to 40 people.

Then on Saturday, Oct. 27, it’s back to cupcakes, this time involving judging of the best decorated cupcakes.

Also on Saturday, as well as Sunday, the Friends will host one of their “mini” book sales from 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

More details and information on all the events can be found at www.hollislibrary.org.

Looking back, it can be said the Hollis Social Library’s very first friends were the members of the N.H. General Court – the office we know today as state representative – who, on Jan. 11, 1799, put forth an act to incorporate what was to be named the Hollis Social Library.

At nearly 220 years old, the library is almost certainly the oldest in the state, and is most likely among the nation’s oldest.

Closer to home, four local men are also in that group of original friends – the Rev. Daniel Emerson, the town’s first pastor who was past 80 at the time; Eli Smith; Noah Worcester; and Daniel Emerson Jr.

I don’t know how much 50 cents in 1799 would be in today’s dollars, but that’s what the buy-in, or initiation fee, was in the beginning. After that, members paid 50 cents per year to belong to what was called the Hollis Library Association.

For the next 50 or so years, members went to the librarian’s home to browse the comparatively miniscule collection, then, for close to 30 years, did their browsing and borrowing in a room in the vestry of the Congregational Church.

A milestone was reached in 1879, when the association agreed to a partnership with the town. But there was one significant milestone left to reach: The newly named Hollis Social Library needed a home of its own.

Enter Franklin Worcester, a member of the next generation of generous, well-to-do Worcesters of lumber business fame.

Not only is Worcester credited with raising around $13,500 to build the gorgeous Greek revival building, he also provided the building site – a parcel in Monument Square he happened to own.

Dedicated on Aug. 24, 1910, the library would add on to its original footprint to accommodate the town’s increasing population, and to keep abreast of rapidly-evolving technology.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Sundays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or@Telegraph_DeanS.