Why Montague has three libraries

  • Montague Center Library. Contributed photo

  • The Millers Falls Library. Contributed photo

  • The Carnegie Library. Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 8/22/2019 8:27:40 AM
Modified: 8/22/2019 8:27:29 AM

In my 20-plus years of working at the Montague Public Libraries, I have often heard the question, “Why does the town of Montague have three libraries?”

The answer to that questions is complicated and rooted in the town’s history and geography. 

Montague is comprised of five distinct villages: Turners Falls, Montague Center, Millers Falls, Montague City and Lake Pleasant. Montague Center was the first settlement. The original town hall was built there in 1858. The Montague Center Library has been housed in the town hall’s building since 1859. It turned 150 years old in March.

The Millers Falls Library started around the corner from its Bridge Street location in 1903. It’s current site, the front portion of which was built circa 1900, was the original home of Watroba’s grocery store and was purchased from the Watroba family in the 1970s by the town.

The Carnegie Library in Turners Falls was built in 1905 and 1906, paid for by a $13,500 grant from the Carnegie Foundation. By agreement, it then became Montague’s responsibility. The town realized the Carnegie Library was too small within 15 years, but the foundation refused to pay for an expansion. 

The three libraries were run independently until the 1980s, when they became collectively the Montague Public Libraries. The smaller Millers Falls and Montague Center libraries became branch libraries. These days, books, DVDs and other materials are purchased and cataloged by the professional staff at the Carnegie Library. Each branch has its own branch library assistant, who normally works alone, with Carnegie staff filling in as needed. 

The Carnegie Library continues to have space limitations and accessibility challenges. A ramp was installed in 1987, but only the first floor is accessible. There is no dedicated parking lot. An addition and renovation were planned with partial funding offered by the state, but the project was pulled when the town built a $5 million police station. Now that a $13 million highway garage project has been started, an addition to the Carnegie or a more modern library building in a new location is unlikely anytime soon.

The branch libraries both only have one floor and, because of that, are more accessible. They also have larger accessible bathrooms, unlike the Carnegie. 

While the Carnegie isn’t perfect, it is situated in a very convenient central location across the street from the Food City plaza. Turners Falls is unique in Franklin County because most basic needs can be met within a small walkable area. Many downtown residents have limited transportation access and often combine library visits with shopping. The Carnegie Library’s location enables its use by a very wide demographic.

The branch libraries are also centrally located in their villages and are accessed by many walkers and some bicycle riders.  

All three libraries have loyal fan clubs of dedicated users. In a recent customer service survey conducted by the library trustees, 188 of 212 respondents said they use the library in their village. One-hundred ninety-nine of 236 respondents wrote they use the public libraries from daily to once every week or two.

All three Montague Public Libraries serve many purposes, including as community centers. In the recent survey, respondents listed the following less traditional uses: computer, WiFi, copier, and public bathroom access, programs for children and adults, socializing, time with children/grandchildren, book sales, and being warm in winter and cool in summer. 

The library trustees and staff are committed to supporting all three Montague Public Libraries. We have studied all three buildings and have produced a list of short-term prioritized repairs. A recent Americans with Disabilities Act transition plan highlighted the accessibility needs for the buildings. Both branches are having moisture remediation projects in their basements. The Carnegie’s front doors and dangerous interior swinging doors will be repaired shortly. Masonry and roof repairs have been mostly completed. Next up is a more intensive study of the Carnegie Library’s building needs by a consultant.  

The Carnegie, Miller’s Falls and Montague Center libraries have all served the town of Montague and it’s varied residents for well over 100 years.  We are working to ensure they will serve far into the future. 

Linda Hickman is the director of the Montague Public Libraries.

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