Littleton's public library was founded in 1887 through the generosity of William Stevens Houghton, and named in honor of Reuben Hoar. Mr. Houghton's father had had the misfortune to face bankruptcy some fifty years earlier. His chief creditor, Reuben Hoar, helped him to stay in business and pay off his debts. In 1887, William Stevens Houghton donated $10,000 anonymously to establish a public library for the Town of Littleton.
Dedication ceremonies were held on July 28, 1887. For eight years, a room in the then new Town Hall served as a home for the library. This building, which was on the site of the present fire station, which burned in 1943.
For some time William Stevens Houghton had wanted to provide a separate building for the library. His son and daughter carried out his wish after his death. The site chosen was a triangle of common land bounded by King Street, Foster Street, and Rogers Street. Here an Italianate style building was erected at a cost of $25,000 and donated to the Town of Littleton in memory of William Stevens Houghton. This building was appropriately named the Houghton Memorial Building.
For nearly one hundred years, from 1895 to 1989, this building housed the library's growing collection. In 1956 a small basement room was converted into a children's room. Unfortunately, the small triangle of land on which the building set did not allow for expansion. Providing increased space became the major issue facing the library.
In November 1986 the Town voted to renovate the former Shattuck Street School as a municipal building, designating the newest wing to be the future home of the library. In September 1989, the Reuben Hoar Library moved to this facility, where it is still located. The move gave the library three times the floor space of the former building.
Although the library was a public library from its inception, it received no appropriation of town funds until 1889, when $546.63 was appropriated for the preparation of a catalog of holdings. No further town funds were appropriated until 1897 when a regular appropriation of $660 for maintenance of the new building was begun. Town funding of the library remained static for several years, but increased steadily thereafter.
According to the original trust, trustees were to consist of the ministers of the three churches then in existence in the town: the Baptist, the Congregational, and the Unitarian, plus one member of each of these churches to be elected at large, and one selectman. In 1971, a suit was filed to change the terms of the trust so that the board of trustees would consist of six members elected at large from all registered voters. This suit was based on the fact that the library had long been supported almost entirely by public funds. The State Supreme Court overturned the trust requirements in September 1972. Since then, trustees have been elected at large for three-year terms.
In 1887, the library had 2,200 books. Much of this original collection was made up of fiction and other literary works, but there were many volumes on agriculture as farming was the principal occupation in the town. The collection grew slowly but steadily over the years. The trustees voted to join the Central Region at its inception in 1963. In 1984, the first professional library director was hired, and the Reuben Hoar Library became eligible for state funds. In 1997, the library was accepted into the Northeast Regional Library System and became a member of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium, a network of 36 libraries with a collection in excess of two million items; the total collection is available to Reuben Hoar patrons
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