About The Library
In 1869, the first meeting of Chatham men was held to consider the advisability of establishing a free reading room and library in the village. The Lackawanna Railroad donated the use of an upper room at the depot for the establishment of the Chatham Library Association. The preamble to the Constitution of the Association states the purpose of the library is “to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and physical condition of the young men of the town.” The opening occurred on January 1, 1870, but the Association closed after a year or two.
In 1875, a second effort to establish a library was made by James Beaumont, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, in the home of David Bower.
It was not until July 16, 1906, that the first exploratory committee meeting for a new location for the library was held. On June 1, 1907, the Chatham Public Library opened in the new Borough Hall and Fire House at 10 Fairmount Avenue with 50 books per day circulated and the first library card issued. Linda Phillips was the librarian until 1924.
In March, 1919, Mayor William Badgeley appointed a memorial committee to consider the possibility of relocating the Library to the Fairview Hotel site (the hotel had completely burned down). Ralph E. Lum served on the committee. Meanwhile, in 1920, the Library moved to the corner of Fairmount Avenue and Main Street in the old Minton General Store and Post Office. There was a trolley stop there and display windows for books.
Charles M. Lum proposed the purchase of the land under and around the Fairview Hotel building for $25,000 for the Library and a Memorial Park. The committee agreed, and a Borough-wide solicitation was begun with Ralph E. Lum as fundraiser. John H. Eastwood of Belleville, a client of R. E. Lum, bequeathed $30,000 upon his death in 1924 for the construction of a library as a memorial to his own father, John H. Eastwood, Sr., and Ralph E. Lum’s father, Frederick H. Lum, who were close friends. The building was designed by James Burley and Theodore Vosselier.
The dedication of the new library building was held May 10, 1924. The crowd was addressed by Sarah Askew of the State Library Commission, Gutzon Borglum (the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore), Ralph E. Lum, and Charles M. Lum, President of the Library Board of Trustees (for the next 30 years).
In the thirties, Chatham Borough grew by 25.6%. Library circulation rose by 97% in non-fiction and 7.6% in fiction. In 1932, there were 2,415 registered borrowers, more than 50% of the population.
In 1938, there were 14,629 books in the collection (a figure double that of 1925). There was a referendum placed on the ballot to add a $10,000 addition to the rear of the Library to house a workroom, offices, and stack area. It was defeated 1,408 to 692. Mrs. John H. Eastwood provided the needed funds! One hundred fifty people attended the March 11, 1940, dedication of the new rear addition. Ceremonies were presided over by Ralph E. Lum, on the 80th birthday of Charles M. Lum, who died two weeks before.
On June 2, 1957, a 50th Anniversary Celebration took place. Katherine Wallace was the Library Director since 1945. She also organized the Friends of The Library in 1949. In 1957, Chatham Public Library had 27,500 books, 100 periodicals, foreign language records, musical and dramatic recordings, art reproductions, a Great Books Club, Home Reader service, Storyhour and Storytime, and a playpen!
In 1960, work began on a Children’s Wing to the west side, and in 1963, a matching wing for Adult and Young Adult on the east side. Funds this time were provided by Chatham Borough ($40,000 for each side), but the work was spread out to soften the economic impact on the budget. In January, 1964, the two new wings were dedicated. Ralph E. Lum, Jr., was President of the Board of Trustees; he served as a member and President from 1954 to 1964.
A major change took place in 1975. After several years of discussions, meetings, and presentations by the Board of Trustees, Director Peter Yannotta, and a Jointure committee, to the residents of Chatham Township and Chatham Borough, and with the blessing of the State of New Jersey, a referendum was placed on the ballot in November, 1974, for Jointure–to form a library for both towns.
On January 1, 1975, The Chatham Public Library became the Joint Free Public Library of The Chathams, committed to serving the residents of Chatham Borough and Chatham Township. All residents and those working or attending school in The Chathams are entitled to free borrowing privileges. The Library is tax-supported by both municipalities, and administered by six jointly appointed Trustees on five-year terms, plus a representative of the school system (also joint) and both Mayors or their representative.
Naturally, the increased book budget and activity jammed the building. By 1980, it was obvious another addition was needed. Members of the Board launched a fund drive, raising $250,000 from the residents and businesses of the communities. A large wing was dedicated in 1983 by Mayor John Bennett of Chatham Borough and Mayor Jeffrey Taylor of Chatham Township; it housed mostly book stacks on the main floor, and boasted a large meeting room on the lower level, complete with a kitchen. The adult and reference areas were flip-flopped with the Children’s room. Closed to the public for just two weeks, new shelving and carpeting were professionally installed, and a major move of every book in the building was handled in one weekend completely by volunteers, coordinated by new Library Director, Diane O’Brien.
A great change in library operations took place in 1985, when the Library of The Chathams became fully automated in MAIN (Morris Automated Information Network), which joins all Morris County libraries by computer database. Patrons could now use their plastic computer-numbered cards at any library in Morris County, while the staff had access to bibliographic listings through the County in search of patron requests, which could be delivered to the local library. Chatham patrons also benefit from membership in the Morris-Union Federation, one of the first library networks in the State, joining Summit, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Madison, Morristown, Bernard Township, and the Chathams in interlibrary cooperation.
In 1991, a workroom was added on in the back of the building. It had originally been planned in the 1982 work, but was cut to bring down expenses. As technology grew, however, staff members needed more space to work in, and the money was squeezed from reserves and endowments.
As computers took over all Library operations, more and more space was needed in public areas for technological equipment. A table of six terminals for the use of patrons became outdated in a couple of years. The need for even more space became obvious, and so, again the Board of Trustees went to the public in search of funds for a final major addition. This time, the quest was for $1,500,000 from the public, and the Borough and Township governments pledged a combined $2,000,000. With the help of a few large private donors; the Woman’s Club of Chatham, who were looking for a new home; several generous foundations; and a majority of private citizens, the funds were raised. The building grew almost by half its size at the time. Both wings were pushed out on the sides and front; the old L-shape in the rear was squared off; and the ’82 addition (stacks and meeting room) grew substantially longer. Also, a lower level was constructed under the enlarged children’s room, an area which became the Woman’s Club room. This addition (costing more than $4,000,000) was dedicated and opened to the public on January 11, 2004, by Mayor Richard Plambeck and former Mayor Herbert Kiehn of Chatham Borough, Mayor Susan Hoag and former Mayor John DeMeo of Chatham Township, Marlee Frahn, President of the Library Board of Trustees, Susan Tackaberry, President of the Friends of The Library, and Library Director Diane O’Brien.