Attempts to establish a public library in South Portland can be traced back into the nineteenth century. But the first significant official step toward achievement of this goal was made in 1938. In that year three City Council members and three members of the Osewantha Garden Club were appointed “to formulate and draw up proper ordinances, orders, or resolves for the establishment of a library in South Portland.” They recommended that the Knightville School House, then situated at the junction of Ocean Street and Cottage Road be used as the library and an initial sum of $15,000 be appropriated to make it suitable for the purpose. This proposal, however, went down to defeat in a referendum of that year, with 840 citizens voting for its passage and 1,041 against. Fortunately, despite this setback, the City Council did not let the matter drop completely. In 1939, they sold the Knightville School House and provided that this money, plus that received from future rental of the land on which it had stood, plus any other gifts or appropriations designated for the purpose, be set aside as a special library fund.
No further specific action was taken for library service until 1952, when, following a study made by a citizens’ committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Robert G. Albion, a contract was negotiated with the Portland Public Library. Under its provisions South Portland residents could use Portland’s library as freely as its own residents, with the City of South Portland, paying $5,000 a year, plus $4.00 for each cardholder beyond 1,250.
This cooperative plan worked very well, but it became obvious that a city the size of South Portland should have some form of a library within its own city limits. In 1959, City Manager Bernal B. Allen proposed that a portion of what was then the high school, when the addition to the Junior High was completed, might be used as a public library. Through the cooperation of the South Portland High School Librarian, Mrs. Florence H. Hascal, in the summer of 1961 the high school library was opened to the public two evenings a week. Money from the City’s library fund was used to purchase books, and the high school collection was also made available for general public use.
In 1962, the newly formed South Portland Junior Chamber of Commerce chose the building of a library as their community project. A tentative site was chosen, plans were drawn, and a public subscription campaign was launched. It was not due to lack of effort and enthusiasm on their part that their $100,000 goal was not reached. But they had aroused community interest anew and credit goes to them for another step in the evolution of the library.
It was the youth of the city who finally set the spark motivating official government action. In January 1964, an eighth grade social studies class from South Portland Junior High School, after much research and opinion seeking under the guidance of their teacher, Mr. Terrence Christy, brought to the City Council its plea for a public library. The Council reacted immediately by appointing a library study/building committee. This was followed by the hiring of an architect, (John H. Leasure from the firm of Leasure, Turtle & Lee, Architects), a library building consultant, the choosing of a site, and the appointment of a Library Advisory Board. On October 16, 1965 ground was broken for the $300,579 building, of which sum the federal Library Services Act provided approximately 58 percent.
Temporary headquarters had already been set up in the basement of the Brown School in June 1965, with the transfer of the public library book collection from the high school library. Mrs. Sarah White Jackson was appointed Acting Director and carried out the preliminary organization and acquisition of books. Mrs. Ann Bauer was formally appointed as Director in September 1965. The move into the new library building was made on August 25, 1966 and the doors were opened for service to the public on December 10, 1966. The library was formally dedicated on April 2, 1967. The goal was reached. The dreams and hopes of many forward thinking citizens were finally realized.
In the years since its opening, much has changed in the services expected from and delivered by the South Portland Public Library. A secondary location, the Memorial Branch Library, was opened on Wescott Road in 1976, to better serve citizens of the western side of the City. The library was automated in 1985, bringing computerized inventory control and checkouts. In 2000, the library joined the newly formed Minerva network, which has grown to become the largest network of libraries in the state, providing a shared online catalog to the public, as well as the ability to share materials between member libraries, for the benefit of all users.
Ann Bauer: 1965 – 1973
William D. Alexander: 1973 – 2000
Marian Agazarian Peterson: 2000 – 2007
Kevin M. Davis: 2007 – Present