As it was more than 150 years ago – Thayer Memorial Library is a central destination for learning, pursuing interests, and meeting friends and neighbors. People come to see one another just as much as to learn from a program or enjoy a book. While true to its founding mission, Thayer Memorial Library is always evolving its means of delivering service to ensure it as a place that brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community.
The Thayer Memorial Library’s roots reach back to the late 1790 when its predecessor, the Lancaster Library (later renamed the Lancaster Social Library), was first established. Membership cost three dollars and required a two-thirds vote of the current proprietors to join. It was not until 1862 when Lancaster residents first established the Town’s foremost tax-supported and free public library – then named the Lancaster Town Library. The Library’s Museum was established in 1863.
That the necessary tax appropriation was made for this purpose despite the political, human and economic costs inflicted by the Civil War said much about the prevailing sense of values and priorities in Lancaster at that time. Soon after the war in 1868, Memorial Hall was erected commemorating Lancaster’s Civil War Dead whose names can still be read on the marble tablet located in what is now the Library’s reference room. Two thirds of the building’s cost to construct was bestowed by Nathaniel Thayer, Esquire, who is also credited as giving the Library’s first permanent endowment in 1866.
From its beginning, the existence and operation of the Lancaster Town Library has been a peculiar product of a combination of steadfast public support and plain, old-fashioned Yankee economy. The Library’s earliest collection was primarily comprised of volumes donated from the Library Club of Lancaster, Lancaster Agricultural Library and several of Lancaster’s school district libraries. When the Library was opened to the Town in October of 1862 its collection numbered 1,200 volumes. George M. Bartol, chairman of the Library Committee (later renamed the Board of Library Trustees) for forty years succinctly expressed Lancaster’s cost-effective approach toward funding the Library by stating,
“…no part of our public expenditure does or can, all things considered, bring back a richer return”*.
In 1868 soon after the war, Memorial Hall commemorating Lancaster’s Civil War dead was erected to house the growing Library. In 1888 the first expansion and renovation of the library building was completed. The new building was believed to have a capacity to hold forty thousand volumes of various sizes.
In 1929, the Library greatly enlarged its service space by adding the Library’s children’s room. The latest addition was in 1999 when the Library more than doubled its size to 19,147 square feet including an enlarged Special Collections room, two meeting spaces for large and small groups, and enough space to hold more than 70,000 volumes.
In 1999 the Board of Trustees rededicated the newly renovated Library as the Thayer Memorial Library. This was to recognize the many contributions of the Thayer family throughout the Library’s history.
In 2017 the Library staff consists of the Director and a number of part time staffers. The Library is open to the public 49 hours per week and offers public meeting room space available even when the building is not open. The Library has a large cadre of volunteers who contributed more than 2,000 hours of service in 2016. There are two non-profit organizations working on behalf of the Library: The Thayer Memorial Library Foundation and the Friends of the Thayer Memorial Library.
The Library is governed by a board of six elected trustees with terms of three years. The Trustees are solely responsible for all monies appropriated by the Town for the Library and for all money or property received by the Town by gift or bequest for the Library. In addition, the Library Trustees assure that Lancaster residents receive excellent service by ensuring that standards established by the Commonwealth are always maintained.