History of the Library

Brief History of the BPL

1889 to 1925

Original incorporation letter, 1889
Original incorporation letter, 1889.

On February 23, 1889, a group of Bloomsburg citizens signed a charter to form the “Bloomsburg Library Company” with high hopes, but not much more. As a nonprofit stock company, the founders hoped to raise $5,000 but started with $105. Between 1889 and 1903, the “Bloomsburg Library Company” was little more than a reading room and often barely existed without a fixed location. In 1903, several civic and women’s clubs pooled resources to provide more adequate financial support for a real library.

In 1903, following Bloomsburg’s Centennial celebration, the Town found itself with about $1,100 leftover. It was decided to use it to revive the Public Library.

A Board of Directors was formed and a librarian hired. The Library occupied the second floor of what was then known as the Woolworth Building on Market Street. The Library kept up with the changing times. A telephone was installed in 1913 and the following year piano rolls were added to the collection, to be loaned out to patrons for the sum of one quarter. (A considerable sum back then and equivalent to about $6.75 in 2021. Bread cost about $0.07 and the average annual income was $687.)

A portrait of Sarah E.L. Van Tassel by E. Herre.
A portrait of Sarah E.L. Van Tassel by E. Herre.

1925 to Present

A blueprint detail of the Library window
A blueprint detail of the Library window

Library use was so enthusiastic by the 1920s that it became clear that the time was right for a library building. A building fund was established in 1923 and fundraising began.

A Philadelphia firm, Ritter & Shay, won the commission with an elegant neo-classical design that suggested a temple of knowledge that was to be a memorial to the men of Columbia County killed in World War I. Inside, a high ceiling and large windows would provide lots of light and air. Until the addition was finished in 1997, the Library occupied only the second floor; the ground floor was a museum. Today, the Children’s Library fills the space that was once the entire library.

On January 30, 1926, the Library opened the new building to the public. There were 1,300 visitors on the first day.

In May 1926, the charter was amended to officially change the name to Bloomsburg Public Library.

Postcard dated 1927, showing the original Library building and automobiles parked in front.
Postcard dated 1927, showing the original Library building and automobiles parked in front.

For many decades, the Bloomsburg Public Library served its community from that one-room space. The library circulated millions of books – later adding VHS tapes to modernize the collection.

In 1941, the Bloomsburg Public Library and the Columbia County Commissioners responded to a request from school administrators by starting the Columbia County Traveling Library, a bookmobile that served as the de facto school library for dozens of schoolhouses across the county. The bookmobile collection was housed on the first floor of the Bloomsburg Public Library until 1997.

It became clear in the 1990s that the library needed to grow. The library board, with help from the Friends of the Library and many sponsors, purchased the house lot next to the library and built a modern addition that complemented the historic building. The 1998 addition not only doubled the size of the library and provided more meeting space for the public, but also allowed for an expanded collection.

Further enhancements after 2000 included the introduction of computers for the staff and the public, several upgrades to the first-floor seating area, and the redesign of the Children’s Library.

Looking up at the Library.
The Library as it stands today.