Plans for the Hamburg Public Library began over ninety years ago when County School Superintendent E.M. Rapp wrote to Andrew Carnegie, telling him of a need for a library in the area. In February, 1903, the response from Mr. Carnegie's personal secretary was reprinted in the local newspaper, the Hamburg Item.
"Responding to your communication on behalf of Hamburg: If the borough agrees by resolution of Councils to maintain a Free Public Library at a cost of not less than $1000 a year and to provide a suitable site for the building, Mr. Carnegie will be pleased to furnish $10,000 to erect a Free Public Library Building for Hamburg."
On March 3, 1903, only two weeks after the publication of Carnegie's letter, the school board decided to accept the offer. The board donated a site on school property on North 3rd Street in Hamburg and assumed responsibility for maintaining the library.
Local Architect, Monroe Dreibelbis, designed a two-wing building with a central rotunda over an arched vestibule. The exterior was to be brick with stone trim and a slate roof. The library would be equipped with steam heat and electric lights. Charles F. Seaman was awarded the building contract with a bid of $9,431.
On October 12, 1903, the blue marble cornerstone of the library was laid. The new library contained a Bible of Shakespearean works, a copy of the Pennsylvania School Laws, a list of the School Board and Library Commission members, and a dozen copies of the Items with articles about the library.
Miss Bertha Shomo was hired as librarian at a salary of $20.00 per month. Books from the school library and $500 worth of new books were placed on the shelves. When the library opened to the public on November 5, 1904, an estimated 500 people visited. Seventy-seven new library cards were issued that first day. Within a few weeks, hundreds of cards were given out.
Over the years many changes have occurred. One of the most significant was the transfer of the library deed and responsibility for operation to Hamburg Borough when the Hamburg School District became part of the merged school jointure in 1958. The building itself has gone through some changes- hardwood floors, better lighting, improved heating, additional shelves, steeple repairs, and new carpeting. The collection has grown to 18,000 and the number of card holding patrons has increased to over four thousand. The population served is now over 14,000 residents, and more than 34,000 items are circulated each year.
The variety of services available through the library also has expanded greatly with DVD's, books on tape and CD, large print books, periodicals and computer services. Attention to the needs of children has increased by providing a children's reading room, story hour and summer reading program. As a member of the Berks County Public Library System, Hamburg Public Library makes countywide library connections available to its patrons. Through the ACCESS PA system, local borrowers can acquire books from many libraries throughout the state.
On December 8, 1988, the Hamburg Public Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, an honor well deserved. Within Berks County, it is the longest continuing library, the first building designed as a library that is still in use and the first library built with funds from Andrew Carnegie. The Hamburg community can take pride in its library's century of nurturing the reading interests of the citizens of Hamburg and surrounding communities. With ongoing community support and interest, the Hamburg Public Library will continue and prosper in these tasks for at least another century.
(Information for this history was compiled by Hamburg Library Trustee Sally Smedley from the following sources: The Bicentennial History of Hamburg Borough and various articles of the Hamburg Item from 1903, 1904, 1988, 1989, and The Reading Eagle, January 5, 1989.)
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