Acton Memorial Library 1890-2020

130th anniversary of the Acton Memorial Library

The Acton Memorial Library, built by WIlliam Allan Wilde in 1889, was dedicated on May 24, 1890 and opened to the public on June 14.


An Illustrated Chronology



Portrait of William Allan Wilde, Mass. State Archives

William Allan Wilde, a Boston publisher who grew up in Acton,  buys land from John Fletcher for $2,500 to be used as the site for a​ memorial library, in "memory of those brave and patriotic men of Acton who so freely gave Time, Strength and Health, and many of them their Lives in the war of the Rebellion, 1861-65."


Portrait of William Allan Wilde (Massachusetts State Archives,


The Acton Memorial Library is built, at a cost of $30,000.  The brick and brownstone building was designed by architects H.W. Hartwell and William C. Richardson of Boston. The builder was Charles H. Dodge of Groton.


The newly built Acton Memorial Library, circa 1890. (Image from glass plate negative, Eugene Hall collection, courtesy Acton Historical Society).

1890 February

February 27—The Act of Incorporation passes the state Legislature.   William A. Wilde writes a letter to the Town offering the gift of the library to the Town.

1890 May

March 3—Town Meeting accepts the gift of the library and land from William Wilde.

May 14—William Wilde deeds the library and property to the Town

May 24—The library dedication ceremony is held with great fanfare. William Wilde dedicated the library to the memory of “Acton’s patriotic citizens” who fought in the Civil War to make a “united country once more possible.” He wanted “to give to every man, woman, and child in Acton a library of good, pure, interesting, and instructive reading, – so to mold the minds of all.” 


acton Memorial Library 1890 Dedication program cover

Program for the 1890 dedication of the Memorial Library and Soldiers' Tablets.  (AML 73.14.1b)

1890 June

June 3—The Town deeds the library and property to the Memorial Library corporation.

June 14—The Acton Memorial Library opens to the public.


Ida A. Hale serves as the first Librarian, 1890-1897.   

Circulation in 1891 was 9,937 volumes. By 1892, 703 library cards had been issued to a Town population of 1,900. 

Two views of the interior of the library, circa 1890  (AML 67.5.2)


First Annual Report of the Board of Trustees


Viola S. Tuttle serves as Librarian from 1897 to 1902.  

The first catalog of books was printed and made available to patrons for 25 cents each. 


The library (previously lit by gas) is lit by electric light provided by the American Woolen Company.  

Arthur Fuller Davis becomes the library’s third Librarian.  During his 43 year-long tenure as Librarian he will also serve as a corporate Trustee and janitor while continuing to create the artwork for which he is known in Acton today.

Boys at play in front of the Acton Memorial Library, by Arthur Davis (AML 38.1.8)


Acton Memorial Library, postcard postmarked 1906

Acton Memorial Library Postcard, with 1906 postmark (AML 1990.2.1)


The Dewey Decimal System, the classification system still in use today, is adopted by the library, and a card catalog is introduced.

Collection size: 11,860 volumes. Library hours are Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and evenings.


The Isaac Davis Post G.A.R in front of the Acton Memorial Library, early in the century. (Photo courtesy Brewster Conant).


Collection size: 14,359 volumes. Annual circulation 9,635 volumes. Number of days open: 100.


The Citizens’ Library of West Acton, founded in 1883, becomes affiliated with the Memorial Library, acting as a distribution point for books until 1962. 


Mary Lothrop serves as Librarian from 1945 to 1955.


The first Children’s Story Hour is introduced.


Collection size: 20,877.   Annual circulation: 19,319.


The library is now open three days a week (up from two).


A reference center is established with funds left in a bequest from former trustee Murray Brown.


Marian L. Piper serves as Librarian from 1955 to 1967.

The library is open five days a week.

A children’s room is established.


Collection size: 21,274.  Annual circulation: 50,145



Friends of the Acton Libraries logoThe Friends of the Acton Libraries is founded, which will become instrumental in making the townspeople aware of the need for expansion. 


October Special Town Meeting votes to appropriate $5,000 to hire an architect to make preliminary drawings and a cost estimate for a contemplated addition to the library.

The library contracts to lease popular books through the "McNaughton Lend-lease plan".

The library acquires its first telephone.


The library puts into operation a Gaylord Automatic Charging System.  

(Image courtesy Gaylord Archival)


A new addition to the library, designed by Concord architect Joseph Schiffer, is proposed by the trustees and approved by the Town.

The library joins the new Eastern Massachusetts Regional Library System, a cooperative that will share resources. Library hours increase by 14%.  

The library is open six days a week.


The library’s first full time Children’s Librarian is added to the staff.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the library expansion is held on Patriots’ Day, April 19.

Groundbreaking for 1967 building.

(Photo from 1990 Annual Town Report).


1967 Annual Report

An expanded 8,241 square foot Library, designed by architect Joseph Schiffer, is dedicated on May 21. The collection of 26,000 books has room to grow, as the facility is built to accommodate 40,000 books.  

A sketch of the Acton Memorial Library with 1967 addition, by Phyllis Hughes

Rendering of the library with the 1967 additon, by Phyllis Hughes.

In October Marian Piper retires after eleven years of service as Librarian.  Wanda Null begins a 35-year tenure as Library Director.  

The library begins a complete revision of the card catalog.  

The library adds Large Print books. 


Morning hours are added with the help of an established volunteer program.  Volunteers will continue to be a vital part of the library's operations up to the present day.

The library is now open 9-9 Monday-Friday, and Saturday 10-6.  


Collection size: 34,225.  Annual circulation: 159,976.  

A separate Reference section is established in the original 1890 building.

Air conditioning is added to the new building.  

An LP record collection is started.

A coin operated photocopier is acquired.  


Sunday hours are added.

The first museum pass (to the MFA) is made available.


Telephone reference service begins.


The Children’s department is moved to the original 1890 building.

Two views of the Children's Department when it occupied the 1890 building.


The library is made accessible with the addition of a wheelchair ramp.


Collection size: 50,569.  Annual circulation: 194,540


The library installs its first computer for patron use, an Apple IIe, on a fee basis.


Videocassettes (at first only non-fiction) and compact discs are added to the collection.

The library has access to online research databases on a pay-per-search basis.


The library officially joins the Minuteman Library Network. 


The library catalog goes online in October 1989, giving patrons access to shared collections of over 600,000 volumes in 26 area libraries. 


The library celebrates its 100th anniversary.  The Annual Town Report features the history of the library and highlights the crowded conditions and need for more space.

Annual circulation: 201,791.  

A people counter is added to track patron visits (153,444).


Aaron J. Fletcher Civil War artifacts are donated to the library.

Portrait of Aaron J. Fletcher  (AML 2009.2.1)


The Acton Memorial Library Foundation is founded as a nonprofit incorporation dedicated to raising funds for the library to help offset the loss of revenue created by economic downturns that had forced the closure of the library on Sundays and Friday.  



Old card catalog, currently in storageThe wooden card catalog with paper records is removed, as the transition to an online catalog with access to 2.1 million items in 26 area libraries is complete.

Old card catalog, relegated to storage.


Computer terminals give public access to an online periodical index, as well as the Minuteman Library Network Catalog.

Handicapped restrooms are installed, making the library fully accessible.


Voters at Town Meeting fund a study of expansion options.

The reference department adds full-text databases on CD-ROM.   

The library and Acton Historical Society host a joint exhibition of Arthur Davis sketchbooks.


Anthony Tappe and Associates are chosen as architects to design an expanded library. Public events are held to present the plans to the community.

Minuteman offers remote online access to the catalog, borrower account information and full-text periodical database through telnet and dial-up. 

The library gets Internet access through “Gopher,” a text-based Internet directory.  Several months later the library provides “enhanced” access to the Internet by providing “Lynx,” a text -based web browser.  

The library adds a circulating and a children's CD-ROM collection.


Acton voters overwhelmingly approve a $6.3 million expansion plan to increase from 10,000 to 30,000 square feet.  In September, the Mass. Board of Library Commissioners awards Acton a $2 million construction grant. 

Sketch of the proposed 1998 addition, by architects Tappe and Associates

Architect's sketch of the proposed 1998 expansion to the Acton Memorial Library (Tappe and Associates).

The library gets graphical, color, access to the Web with a single PC running the Netscape browser.   


In May, the library moves to temporary quarters at 222 Main Street while renovations begin at 486 Main Street.

The official groundbreaking takes place on June 14, 1997. Circulation passes the 300,000 mark while at the temporary location.


Cornerstone of 1998 buildingThe library expansion is completed in 1998.

Cornerstone of the expanded building.


The expanded library opens in February with a rededication ceremony in May.

The Library is recognized as one of the Ten Best Libraries in the U.S. by Hennen’s American Public Library Rating Index for communities with populations between 10,000 and 25,000.

An Arts Committee is formed to plan art exhibits in the new Meeting Room space. A Young Adult department, separate from Teen, is established.


The Acton Memorial Library Foundation, established in 1991, establishes an endowment to supplement the library’s regular funds. 

The reference department is subscribing to both print and online resources.


Library Director Wanda Null retires after 35 years of service. Marcia Rich is appointed the new Library Director.

The Minuteman system upgrades from “dumb terminals” to desktop computers.


The library launches its first website.  

A Chinese Language Collection, the library’s first foreign language collection, is established with the assistance of community volunteers and a $20,000 federal Library Services & Technology Act grant.


Annual circulation jumps 14.6% to 477,248, the highest circulation rate per FTE for the 53 libraries in its population range.


The library receives a $24,500 Community Preservation Act grant to fund a Civil War exhibit.


Wireless Internet access is available throughout the library building.  

Downloadable audiobooks are introduced.


The Minuteman Network introduces a due date email reminder service and an online fine payment option.


Annual circulation jumps 12.5% to 627,099. More than a quarter of a million people visit the library. The collection is close to 150,000 items.

New computer time management software is introduced.

The Civil War exhibit, “Not Afraid to Go,” opens to the public.  


E-books are added to library’s offerings.

A self-checkout system is added.

The Minuteman Catalog allows searches in non-roman scripts, including Chinese and Russian.  

Print management is introduced.  


Collection size: 155,022 items.  Annual circulation: 669,069.  Visits: 270,395.  Public computer use: 29,956 sessions.

The library begins to transition away from print reference resources. Over the next decade the remaining print reference titles are gradually moved to the circulating collection.

Media equipment is installed in the Meeting Room.

Signage is improved throughout the building.


Public computers are migrated from a peer-to-peer network to a server administered by the Town IT department.  

An RFID circulation project is begun.  


An email newsletter service is established.

An Adult graphic novel collection is introduced.

Adult programming and basic computer classes are greatly expanded with the reorganization of staff positions.


Library photographed in 2013.

Interior of the library, photograph Charles Mayer Photography

The exterior and upper level of the library photographed in 2013.

(Interior photo by Charles Mayer Photography).


Downloadable music is offered.

A redesigned, mobile-friendly website is introduced.

Social media accounts are set up.


Collection size: 191,575 items, of which 24.2% are non-print formats.  

Streaming video is added.


Local newspapers are digitized.

  Cover of digitized annual reportTown Annual Reports and other local materials are digitized at the Boston Public Library digitization lab and made accessible via The Internet Archive.


125th anniversary commemorative ornamentActon Memorial Library celebrates 125th anniversary in service to the community.


125th anniversary commemorative ornament.


350 library programs are offered during the year.  

A “Speed Reads” collection is launched.

Minuteman upgrades to a "discovery" catalog.

Online registration enabled in the events calendar.

Repair and maintenance of Fitzgerald Piano is funded through a Community Preservation Act grant.

Detail of Fitzgerald Piano keys and dedication plaque


“Always available” e-content is offered through Hoopla.

A self-service café opens in the Solarium.

“Under Two” Storytime is added.  

A digital microfilm scanner is made available.

The library circulates Wi-Fi hotspots.

  Minuteman Library Network launches a mobile app.


The meeting rooms used 1,017 times.  

RFID technology is used in circulating materials.  

Birding kits and microscopes are added to the “Library of Things” collection.  

Blu-ray DVDs are added. 

A collection of works by Arthur Fuller Davis is donated by Richard Nylander in memory of his parents Barbara G. and Donald O. Nylander.


Marcia Rich retires after sixteen years of service as Library Director.  Danielle Savin is appointed Library Director.

Minuteman Network announces reciprocal sharing of e-content with other Mass. library networks.  

Minuteman adds digital magazines to the Overdrive collection.

RFID security doors are activated.  

A color photocopier/scanner is added.

The library roof and HVAC system are replaced. 

The library receives $10,500 in funds from a Community Preservation Act grant to clean, restore, and frame nearly 100 Arthur Davis etchings and drawings that were gifted from Richard Nylander in memory of his parents Barbara G. and Donald O. Nylander.

  Image of a phone with text messageMinuteman launches an upgraded text messaging service.  


A Young Adult board game collection is added.

Streaming video service Kanopy is added.


The Minuteman Library Network begins automatic renewals for eligible items.  

The library publishes its Long Range Plan for 2020-2024.

March 14—The COVID-19 global pandemic forces the library to temporarily close the doors to the public. The library's focus shifts to online programs and services, including a  YouTube channel with library programs.

In May and June, the Acton Memorial Library had planned to celebreate its 130th anniversary.  In lieu of a physical exhibition planned for May and June in the library Meeting Room Gallery, the library presents an online exhibition of Arthur F. Davis works given by Richard Nylander.


Etching by Arthur Davis

1892 etching by Arthur Fuller Davis. Gift of Richard Nylander in memory of Barbara G. and Donald O. Nylander. Restored with funding provided in 2018 by the Acton Community Preservation Fund. AML 2018.1.40

  June 10—Following state and local health guidelines, the library begins phased re-opening with contactless curbside pick up.