The Hippo


Jun 4, 2020








The Carpenter Memorial Library building, which turned 100 this November. Courtesy image.

Frank Carpenter’s insight
Carpenter Memorial Library building in Manchester turns 100

By Kelly Sennott

 In 1908, when it was discovered that the Manchester City Library’s Franklin Street location was infested with termites, library trustee and Amoskeag Paper Mill President Frank P. Carpenter decided it was time for something sturdier that would last. Construction began in 1912, and by 1914, the new building was completed in an Italian Renaissance Revival style, with bright sunny spaces for reading and, revolutionary at its time, a children’s room.

Last it did; the Carpenter Memorial Library building turned 100 this November. 
It was a long, two-year celebration, expanded to commemorate the two years it took to build the Carpenter building. From 2012 through 2014, there were lectures on the history and construction of the building; tours led by the Manchester Historic Association; and banners, historical artifacts and “What we were reading in 1914” displays decorating the entrance.
At the grand finale event Nov. 19, proclamations were made by Mayor Ted Gatsas, State Librarian Michael York and Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen. Everything and everyone else necessary for a 100-year party was there too, including past and present staff members and Manchester Public Television, which taped the event. Library trustees, Carpenter family members, politicians and patrons glowed about how good the building looked and were awed by the new decorations.
One addition is a Lego replica by David Gwon that is so exact, there are scattered green roof tiles representing the copper that’s colored with age. Another is a blown-up portrait of Mrs. Elenora Blood Carpenter, who died in 1910 and to whom the building was dedicated on Nov. 18, 1914, in front of a 5,000-person crowd. Downstairs, cards with phrases like “Happy Birthday Public Library” in kids’ scrawl decorate a side hallway.
The birthday events involved a lot of planning. 
“It’s been a really long year, but staff helped out with everything,” library director Denise van Zanten said in a phone interview. “It’s been a real group effort to pull everything off.”
The makeup of the building has changed a bit since its 1914 inception, and deputy director Dee Santoso pointed out some of these differences during a tour through the state’s physically largest public library, which she gives often to patrons, new Americans and people who’ve just never been to the library before.
“It is a pretty big, impressive building, so it’s hard to know just where to go,” Santoso said during the tour.
Today, the information desk personnel primarily answer technological questions, and in addition to physical books, there are audiobooks, ebooks and 90 computers (including staff computers). There’s also more seating — locals use the space for reading, entertainment, computer access and cultural history, and programming includes everything from teen and kids’ events to lectures, theater and film screenings.
But Santoso says it’s remarkable to look back to Carpenter’s foresight. Even though there wasn’t enough inventory to fill the space in 1908, he knew there would be.
“We have about 250,000 titles,” Santoso said. “And that fluctuates monthly.”
Carpenter was quite particular on the construction as well.
“There is a very thick ‘specifications’ for the building that Mr. Carpenter put together for his architects, who were Edward R. Tilton and Edgar A.P. Newcomb,” van Zantan said in an email. “Mr. Carpenter detailed the mixing of the plaster as well as the fixture to be used.”
In addition to all the modern conveniences of the time, like electricity, an elevator and a dumbwaiter, there was a children’s room, which was unheard of in its day. 
“Children were to be seen and not heard. Public libraries in the early 1900s didn’t have services for children. Libraries were for adult education,” van Zanten said.
Visitors can still appreciate the beauty of the space. Van Zanten remembers the first day she walked into the doors for the interview; just standing in the rotunda, you can see ornately decorated walls and a detailed skylight that brightens the entrance. The floors are marble, the woodwork oak, and the building itself is constructed of steel beams, granite, marble, brick and concrete. 
Carpenter spared no expense on the building; he spent about $355,000, which equates to about $8.5 million today. A portrait of the builder and philanthropist still greets guests in the space that’s constantly changing depending on patrons’ needs, ready for 100 more years.
“Public libraries have always been really good at reinventing their services to meet the needs of the community,” van Zanten said. “They were first in line to offer Internet access for free. … After Christmas, we’ll have classes about using new ebooks or tablets. We’ve had to take on more of a teaching role as well. … But books aren’t going anywhere. People still like the tactile feeling of reading a book in bed.” 
As seen in the December 4, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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