18th and 19th Century
Guilford has provided library services to its community in some form since 1737 when a library company was formed along with Saybrook, Killingworth and Lyme. A public library was formed in North Guilford around 1760. From 1790 to 1797 the First Society Library was formed succeeded by the Guilford Library which operated until 1815. This was in turn followed by the Union Library whose collection like its predecessors, was comprised mainly of religious books.
Several other libraries were active most notably the Guilford Free Library which was erected in 1891 across from 121 Whitfield Street with funds donated by E.P. Dickie. The library is pictured on the right of the accompanying photo.
In 1926 the Guilford Library Association began the long process of establishing a free public library professionally staffed and available to all. The fruit of these efforts was the present public library erected in 1933 on land given to the town by Frederick C. Spencer
On Tuesday, January 23, 1934 the Guilford Free Library officially opened to the public at its new location 67 Park Street. The Georgian style building; with Leete’s Island granite stairs, was adorned with gifted ferns and flowers. By that afternoon approximately 200 people had registered as library patrons.
Edith B. Nettleton was our first librarian when the building opened on January 23, 1934 with 5,414 volumes. Early in her tenure she implemented a series of exhibitions. The first was entitled “Old-Time Guilford” and it featured historical photographs, maps, and sketches of the town along with tools, utensils, and weapons. Edith included anecdotes about local people and industry.
During her 44-year tenure as director, library technology changed dramatically:
The book check-out processing system was improved with a new photographic machine; reducing clerical procedures and log-jams allowing librarians more time for other tasks.
Interlibrary loan service and local home delivery service initiated to service for those who could not personally visit the library.
To ease congestion in 1971 the 13,000 books of the Children’s collection were moved to the Major Lathrop House next door. In 1975 a landslide vote approved an expansion from 4,500 to 19,000 square feet. On December 5, 1977 the enlarged building opened to the public with the entire collection once again under one roof.
The Friends of the Guilford Library was formed in 1973 with the purpose of extending the present services of the library through the sponsorship of educational, cultural, and social programs including films and lectures, guest speakers, book reviews, and painting exhibitions from local artists.
In 1978 Edith B. Nettleton retired after 44 years of service. Associate Director Jean D. Baldwin was named Director and Sandra Ruoff was named Associate Director. Edith then embarked on her career as a Historical Room volunteer.
Automation of the circulation system began in 1983 and by 1986 the LION network of 17 libraries were linked by computer.
Jean Baldwin retired and Sandra Ruoff was named Director.
In 1993 the card catalog was removed and the computer catalog took its place. This was followed in 1996 with free internet for patrons.
By 2006 the town once again approved an expansion, during which the Library operated from a temporary space at Carter Drive in Guilford. When work was completed in 2008 the square footage had increased from 20,000 to 34,000 square feet. The new building was opened on 5 September 2008. We currently hold over 120,000 items and circulate approximately 300,000 items annually.