Osterhout Free Library
Member of the Luzerne County Library System

Central: 570-823-0156 *  North: 570-822-4660  *  Plains: 570-824-1862  *  South: 570-823-5544

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Osterhout Free Library

When prominent merchant and real estate magnate Isaac Smith Osterhout (above) died in 1882, his will specified a substantial portion of his estate be used toward the establishment of a free public library. In 1887, the board of directors hired Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal System, to act as an advisor. Dewey recommended that the board buy the vacant First Presbyterian Church, which had been built in 1849, and use it for approximately 10 years until permanent arrangements could be made.

The Osterhout at the turn of the centuryAs it happened, this became the permanent arrangement. The Gothic architecture of the church proved quite suitable for a library. It was decided to use the former Sunday School room as a reference section. With its large fireplace and oak woodwork, it was thought to have the ambience of a fine public library.

The library trustees hired Hannah Packard James to be the first head librarian and assigned her the task of organizing and preparing the library for its grand opening. The original library collection (approximately 10,000 volumes) consisted of books from Osterhout's personal collection, part of the Atheneum (a local subscription library), and 9,500 volumes purchased from Charles Scribner and Sons. The Osterhout Free Library finally opened its doors to the public on January 29th, 1889 and was one of the first libraries in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Early achievements included the opening of one of the first children's depa1960 Interior of the libraryrtments in the country in 1904. A stack wing was added in 1908, a two-story addition to the rear of the building in 1966 and the Ken L. Pollock Children's Wing in 1982.

In the flood caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, the library lost more than 69,000 books as well as all its magazines and newspapers. A massive recovery effort was launched and by 1975 the book collection had been rebuilt to 124,000 volumes.

The library was closed for a period in 2001 for extensive renovations. The former reference department was  converted into a pleasant reading room with volumes of fiction lining the walls. Walls were freshly painted, new furnishings installed, and additional equipment provided. Automation replaced the cumbersome card catalogs, and banks of computers were added to enable patrons to access the collection and the Internet. 

Inside July 2000LP records, audiocassettes, and film supplemented the books available for loan, and, as commercial formats changed, these were overtaken by the videocassettes, DVDs, and CDs which make up today's audiovisual collection. As an information center, the library has had to enlarge its collection to provide materials in media other than print. Internet service is also available and anyone is free to surf the Net for business or pleasure.

 In 2008-2009, the library underwent significant repair and restoration to maintain the 160 year-old building. These projects included repairs to the roof and brickwork and repair of the original window glass.


The Osterhout Free Library has always served as a hub of information for the Wyoming Valley. With an ever-expanding range of services, it will continue to do so, as it has from 1889, through the 20th century, and into the new millennium. 


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