History of Dover Free Public Library

For over one hundred and fifty years, libraries have served the town of Dover -- though they haven't always been part of town government or supported by public money. The earliest libraries in Dover, as in so many other old colonial towns, were begun by private groups and individuals who hoped to make books and information more easily accessible to the people of their area.

During the summer of 1832, William Young set up a small bookcase in one of the corners of his family's bakery on Dickerson Street. A few days before, some members of a local group called the Sons of Temperance had asked if they might use the space to offer a few books and other tracts for public circulation. Because the letters S. of T. were etched into the top of the case that William placed in the little shop, it soon became known as the "Soft Library."

The Young family kept the library going until 1888, when it moved into the Ives Stationary Store on East Blackwell Street as a subscription library.

In 1901, a women's society called the Octagon Club took over the library (to "improve their minds") and established it in a room in the old Presbyterian Church at the corner of Blackwell and Prospect Streets, which they were allowed to use rent-free. Originally, the ladies of the club had rotated the duties of librarian. However, when this system proved unsatisfactory, Miss Harriet Breese was hired as Dover's first librarian.

The Dover Public Library Association was formed by the club members during 1902, and continued to operate the library on a subscription basis for the next two years. In the election of 1904, the narrow margin of 55 votes proved enough and the Dover Free Public Library finally became a fully-supported public institution.

With 1,500 books, some of which it owned and others that were part of a traveling library from Trenton, free service to the town of Dover began. Quickly becoming an essential part of the community that it served, the library gave space and offered help to many cultural, civic, and public-service groups in the area. The people of Dover were generous as well, donating books and volunteering their time in an effort to assure that the struggling institution would succeed.

As the size of its collection has grown, the library has been forced to move several times over the course of the years. In 1911, the library moved into the Fair Building on East Blackwell Street, and in 1923 it it took up residence in the Moose Building (which is now occupied by Dover Christian Nursing Home).

Finally, in 1932, work was completed on the original section of the present building. This was the first structure in Dover specifically designed to be used as a library and housed the collection until the early 1960's, when more space was deemed necessary. Construction on the new addition to the library was completed in 1965 and now holds the staff work area, adult non-fiction collection, and the Children's Room.

Presently, Dover Free Public Library has over 55,000 books in its collection, as well as more than 140 current periodicals, a large selection of audio books, music tapes and CD's, and video tapes (both for education and entertainment). The library's Spanish language collection is the largest in Morris County and one of the finest in the State. Patrons are kept up-to-date with all of the latest technologies, provided through access to CD-ROM reference materials and the Internet, both of which may be viewed using the library's computers.

As the Dover Free Public Library approaches its centenary, we look back on a history of service to the community and once again renew our commitment to the people that we serve.

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