History (continued - 2)

While the library operated in the transformed Post Office at 91 Rope Ferry Road, the Library Board was busy with future plans. With the assistance of Mr. Edmund W. O'Brien, a member of the Board of Trustees, new articles of incorporation were drawn up and the corporate name changed [old drawing] to "The Waterford Public Library, Inc." The by-laws were updated and arrangements for the disposition of the old building were made with the Town. On August 7, 1961, the Library Board voted to give the building to the Town, which moved it to the little park at the corner of Avery Lane and Rope Ferry Road. It served for many years as the main office of the Recreation and Parks Department and now is the headquarters of the Waterford Historical Society.

Plans for a library building on the newly acquired site went forward. Gordon MacMaster of Cheshire, Connecticut was engaged as architect, and conferences were held with the Selectmen, Board of Finance and members of the R.T.M. In 1964, for the first time, federal funds were available through the State for library construction. With its fine site and architect's plans ready, the Board of Trustees was able to secure one of the first grants from these funds, subject to the Town's appropriating its share of costs.

In 1965-66, with a combination of federal funds, town appropriation and its own building fund, the Board of Trustees plus two members chosen by the R.T.M. acted as a building committee for the Town and signed the F.W. Brown Company of Yantic to put up the new building on the land the library had purchased in 1959. The Library Board then turned the land and building over to the Town, together with all the books and furnishings of the library, The Waterford Public Library, Inc. agreeing through its Board of Trustees to continue to operate the library for the Town.

In February 1966, with entirely volunteer help, all the books and equipment from the rented library quarters were moved to the new location, and on February 25, the library opened in its handsome new building. Including furnishings it had cost $265,000. Of this amount, $81,500 came from federal funds, $110,000 from town appropriation, and the remainder from the library building fund. The area of the new building was 16,500 square feet and included meeting rooms for public use in the basement. The book collection was 16,000 and the circulation was over 96,000.

Library use accelerated. In June 1973, the R.T.M. appropriated $70,080, a balance on hand from revenue sharing funds "to the expansion program of the Library." This was the beginning of what was to reach a total of over $750,000 for the addition to the west side of the building, changes in the old building and new furnishings and accessories. The Library Board served as the Building Committee. Trustee Henry Gardiner chaired the Committee. The architects were Gibbons, Heidtmann & Salvador of White Plains, New York.

In August 1976, the library opened in its expanded, remodeled building after being closed for three weeks, during which the staff transferred the volumes to the new shelves and arranged the children's department in what had been the adult section. But the sound of builders continued for over a year afterwards, due to changes in the old part of the building to meet new fire regulations. The new wing housing the adult section added 7,500 square feet of floor space. It was designed with a high roof, clerestory windows, and structural bookstacks in order to permit the installation of a mezzanine in the future.

For the next ten years the library continued to grow in the size of its book collection, circulation, number of hours open, and variety of materials and services offered. By 1986 the book collection had reached 96,000 volumes and circulation had climbed to over one-quarter million items checked out each year. In addition to books, records and magazines, patrons also found cameras, computers and video cassettes available for loan. Sunday hours were added to the regular weekly schedule for most of the year. In 1979, in cooperation with the Groton Public Library, the library installed a C.L.S.I. Libs 100 automated circulation and inventory control system to keep library operations up to date.

April 6, 1986 brought completion of the mezzanine provided for in the 1976 construction. The RTM again appointed the Library Board as the Building Committee, with Henry Gardiner again serving as Chairman. Gibbons, Heidtmann & Salvador were the architects and Rudolph Netsch of Chester, Connecticut was the contractor. Total cost was $217,446 of Town funds, partly reimbursed by a $50,293 State Library Construction Grant. The library remained open during the 4½-month project with dedicated staff serving borrowers even with most of the adult collection partitioned off from the public.

On the morning of June 16, 1994, a library patron drew more attention from the library staff than he could imagine. This gentleman was the first member of the public to search for a book by consulting a terminal on the new computerized catalog, instead of looking it up in the card catalog. His successful search completed a process that had been part of Waterford Public Library's vision for the future since the Director's reference to an automated catalog in the 1981 Annual Report, and perhaps since the library's first computer project in 1978. Upgrades to the computer system and improvements to the library database between 1981 and 1993 were undertaken with the vision of an online public access catalog in mind.

Following the installation of the online catalog in 1994, the Library introduced additional automated services. Patrons could soon dial into the catalog from home computers, search for titles, and reserve items that had been checked out of the Library. The Library launched the Town of Waterford Web Page through a statewide project known as the Public Access Initiative. Within a few years, the Library was hosting two of its own Web Pages. Computers for freely accessing the Internet were made available to the public. Additional computers for word processing and spreadsheet work were added for members of the public to use, as were computers loaded with a variety of databases, encyclopedias, learning games, and reference resources on CD-ROM. In March 2002, networked desktop computers replaced terminals and the graphic interface replaced text menus as the Library completed its migration to a new computer system.  The SIRSI system is readily accessible via the World Wide Web, provides users with large amounts of information about titles in the collection, and offers them many "patron empowerment" features.

In January 2000, the Library Board renewed its commitment to excellence by undertaking a 21-month strategic planning project led by consultant Simone Joyaux.  The Board received input from staff, Town officials, community groups, and the public.  The resulting Strategic Plan provided the impetus for the computer migration project, the annual fund drive, and a number of library service enhancements, and helped set direction for the next several years.

So, from a few hundred books in a carriage house manned by a little group of volunteers, the Waterford Public Library is now an air-conditioned building with elevator service, a professional staff, and all the equipment of a modern library. The library has come through some heavy weather in its seventy-six years, but it has been fortunate in the dedicated people who have kept it on course.