When prominent merchant and real estate magnate
Isaac Smith Osterhout
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.
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
Early achievements included the opening of one of the first children's departments
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.
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.
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.