The Windham Public Library is having a special birthday this year, celebrating 50 years of service to our community. When it was built in 1972, the library was embraced by the people of Windham, who looked forward to exploring this new and modern facility.

The Windham Center Library was located in the center of town from 1908-1972. Contributed / Windham Historical Society

Prior to this time, the only library in this section of town was the tiny Windham Center Library. This library was established in the mid-19th century when several women from Windham Center added a reading club to their sewing circle. They collected books from various donors and kept the collection in a member’s home for a period of a year. They called their endeavor the Windham Circulating Library. Later, a room in the small building next to the Old Grocery on Windham Center Road became available and the reading club used it as its operating center. In 1908, the club bought the whole building and the Windham Center Library was born with 800 volumes available for people to borrow.

When the current library opened, Mrs. Myrle Cooper was hired as the town librarian. She had big plans for the building. Her husband Leon, of L.C. Cooper Company, was the structure’s builder and she was excited about the new services it would provide. First of all, it would have a homey atmosphere. Patrons were invited to enjoy a cup of coffee as they browsed through the library shelves while listening to the soft sounds of music in the background. The library would also offer new aids for those who were visually impaired. Page magnifiers, large-type books and audiobooks were available, and Mrs. Cooper could also obtain books in braille by making a toll-free call to another library.

“The new library offered people availability to reading and research that they had never had before,” said Jean Reeves, Cooper’s daughter. “My mother was very friendly and people took to her quickly. She was open to suggestions that would make the library more accessible to the people in town. She worked well with others and provided many interesting programs, including some about Windham history and assorted famous artists.”

Businesses and individuals were equally eager to have this exciting source of knowledge in town. Sylvania Electric generously supplied all the lighting fixtures in the building, Helen and Jerry Seavey donated two Boston rockers to add to the cozy atmosphere and the William Davis family gifted the library an Andrew Wyeth portfolio and some Audubon prints. The free coffee was supplied by Mr. Jerry Tabor.

An old card catalog is currently on display at the library. Contributed / Sally J. Bannen

Our current library has advanced in leaps and bounds since those earlier days. A while ago, I interviewed Library Director Jennifer Alvino, who explained, “Most libraries were more reading rooms then, where people could read and research in a quiet setting. They are more community centers today where patrons can learn things from technology to science, meet authors or take part in various reading clubs and other group activities.”

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The old card catalogs that were in use in 1972 have since been replaced with an online alternative.

“It makes it much easier for our staff to keep things up to date and current,” Alvino said.

Anyone who would like to see an original card catalog from the library can view one on display right now in the building’s circulation area.

The library will be celebrating its birthday from now through April with various changing exhibits. For example, there is an exhibit focusing on the Windham Circulating Library now on display. The children’s department recently had a card-making party where kids could write thank-you cards for holiday gifts or to the library itself for its many resources. Next month, the Friends of the Windham Library will have a display in a glass exhibit case.

Winter often finds us cooped up inside and that makes it the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book. Why not stop by the Windham Public Library and see all the many fun books and activities available to you for both learning and pleasure. Oh yes, and while you’re there, don’t forget to bid the staff a very Happy Birthday.

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and an active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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