The Library’s story began in 1880 with the founding of the Northport Literary and Social Union in the basement of the Presbyterian Church on Main Street. According to its constitution, the union aspired to “promote the literary culture of its members and to organize a library.” Although its main activity was to host lively, weekly debates on current issues, from the start the union moved toward establishing its library. A library committee was in place by 1883 and during this year books were purchased, a librarian appointed, and a reading room opened in the Northport Journal building. In 1888 the union moved into a larger space in the Union Opera House on Union Place, incorporated, and renamed itself the Northport Literary and Library Union.
The Northport Literary and Library Union never lost sight of its goal of establishing a public library. But after 1888 it experienced sporadic financial and membership crises. It moved frequently in its search for suitable quarters for its library.
The union turned itself around at a 1907 membership meeting, when a proposal to dissolve the organization was met with resolve to reinvigorate it. A decision was made to move into the new Bonner Building, centrally located on Main Street just east of Union Place. The following week sixty-one new members joined the union and a women’s auxiliary formed to raise funds to maintain the library. After eliminating the five-cents-a-book loan fee for nonmembers in 1911, the union was recognized by the state as a free public library.
At the same time, the union worked toward finding a permanent home. In 1914 it received a ten thousand dollar library-building grant after it had fulfilled the Carnegie Corporation’s building site and funding requirements: The union had purchased a lot on the corner of Main Street and Woodside Avenue with three thousand dollars raised through volunteer efforts in the community. It had guaranteed ongoing funding for the library through a resolution passed soundly at the annual school meeting. The resolution included provisions for acceptance of the grant, the transfer of the library to the school district, a one thousand dollar annual tax appropriation for library operations, and the election of a board of trustees.
With Carnegie Corporation and community funding in place and the transfer of assets from the Literary Union under way, the Northport Public Library received its charter from the state in June 1914. Construction started on the new library building the following October. Harry E. Donnell, a well-known New York City architect, designed the tapestry brick building. Mr. Donnell was a member of the Delamater family, whose estate covered most of Eaton’s Neck at that time. Vail and Call, a local firm, was the builder.
On December 13, 1915, the Library celebrated its formal opening with an evening of music and speeches. A Brooklyn Eagle article described the building’s compact interior: “The north end is arranged for a children’s room while the other end is for adults. At each end tables of proper size to meet the requirements have been placed, and an electric light plug has been arranged so that reading lamps can be utilized. At the rear of the librarian’s desk, about midway of the building, is the reference alcove…Passing down the stairway, the visitor enters a spacious lecture hall in the basement, with a raised platform at the north end.”
The Northport Public Library shed its precarious, nomadic past in 1915 and settled into its new Carnegie building at 215 Main Street for a long period of stable service to the community. Throughout this period George Babcock, one of the library’s main supporters, provided continuity as president of the board of trustees.
The library aided the World War I effort through its participation in a program to send books to troops overseas. During the Depression, the library’s downstairs meeting room became a women’s workroom. Local women worked in shifts, earning $2.50 a day mending donated clothing that was then distributed to families in need.
In 1939 East Northport residents formed the Library Association of East Northport to establish a public library in the community. As a letter from this group to the state department of education explains, “East Northport … stretches far to house its 5,500 inhabitants. They are largely farmers, largely second generation Americans and of an extremely cosmopolitan aspect – Germans, Poles, Italians, Slavs … A number of houses are being continually built in East Northport ... The community is growing steadily … The problem of children and others traveling the three miles each way [to the Northport Public Library] is hard to surmount.”
The school district offered six hundred dollars to help with initial costs and donated space in the old East Northport School, vacant since the year before when Larkfield School opened down the street. The East Northport Public Library opened as a branch of the Northport Public Library in June 1940 with 321 registered patrons and 1,200 books. During the first year both the book collection and the number of residents with library cards doubled.
A fire destroyed the library in 1945. With help from the community, most of the books were saved. Boy Scouts played an important role by forming a book brigade to carry the books to a nearby store. For the next four years the library was housed in temporary quarters in the Leighton building across the street.
Damaged beyond repair, the school building was demolished and a new library building erected on the site in 1949. This building, expanded by a shelving area in 1966, served the community until the mid-1990s. By then it was too small to accommodate the growth of the community and the expansion of library services. In 1997 it was replaced at the same location by the present East Northport Public Library.
During World War II and in the years that followed, the Library took on new projects and strengthened its services. The Library did its part to support the war effort. It collected donations of books to send to the armed forces overseas. Red Cross volunteers used the Main Street library building meeting room to prepare surgical dressings. Wartime heating fuel shortages, however, resulted in reduced library hours.
After the war the Library added resources and services, in response to both a nationwide movement to improve libraries and the Northport-East Northport community’s population surge. The Library’s book collection grew from ten thousand volumes in 1945 to over forty thousand in 1960. During the same period borrowers increased from two thousand to almost twelve thousand. Book displays, art exhibits, and author talks became regular library activities. Both library buildings rearranged their limited space to accommodate separate children’s rooms and enhanced their services to children with story hours and library tours for school children.
Fifty years after construction of the library building on Main Street, the Library faced seriously crowded conditions. The population served by the library district had grown from nine thousand five hundred in 1950 to twenty-eight thousand in 1960. Assistant Library Director Miklos Zsedely described the Northport Library as follows: “The main floor of this building is literally covered with shelves, circulation desk, microfilm cabinets, newspaper rack, periodical rack, and vertical files, which leave space for only twenty-three to sit and for no one to walk … There should be about thirteen thousand books in a building of its size. It now holds some thirty thousand.”
Members of the community voted in 1963 to purchase land for a new library at the corner of Laurel and Scudder Avenues. Soon after, they voted to build a twenty thousand square feet library on this site and expand the library in East Northport.
Construction was completed in 1966. The Northport building included space for a special art book collection and a meeting room with seating for one hundred. The extension to the East Northport building added book stack areas that freed space for a larger children’s room and for seating and reference resources in the adult area.
The spacious, new library facilities that opened in 1966 filled rapidly as the Library responded to the interests of the still-growing community and to a proliferation of media and information resources. The Library started to loan audiobooks in 1974 and videos in 1983. Audiocassette recordings joined long-playing records and both were replaced by compact discs in 1987. From the installation of a single computer on an experimental basis in 1982, computer access steadily expanded to include word processing and other software applications. In 1995 the Library offered Internet service in its buildings and dial-up access for those connecting from home.
The book collection grew as well. Special collections, such as large print, art, business, and Prime Time for seniors, were developed. Periodical and newspaper articles on microfilm, and electronic catalogs and databases increased access to information. The Library’s membership in the Suffolk Cooperative Library System facilitated the loan of books and other materials from libraries throughout the county and indeed from all over the United States.
The Northport building’s large meeting room enhanced the programming capabilities of the Library. It was in regular use by the adult and children’s departments and also by community groups.
By 1986 library users, the board of trustees, and staff had come to the same conclusion: the Library needed larger and improved facilities. After exploring a range of options, the library board proposed a plan in 1995 to renovate and expand the Northport Library from twenty thousand to thirty-six thousand square feet and to build an entirely new twenty-thousand-square foot library on the site of the East Northport building. The community overwhelmingly approved a $7.4 million bond issue to fund the project in September of that year.
The old East Northport building was removed in August 1996 to make way for the new library and a temporary library opened in a storefront on Larkfield Road. In November 1996 ground was broken for the Northport building expansion. The building closed in October 1997 as construction proceeded. The same month the dramatic new library in East Northport opened. As in the old building, there was a cozy seating area centered around a fireplace. In August 1998 the expansion project concluded with the opening of the nautically themed Northport Library. Both buildings, designed by the architectural firm Beatty, Harvey, and Associates, featured spacious reading areas, ample room for computers and resources in a variety of formats, attractive meeting rooms, and trend-setting cafes.
Library services and facilities for children and teens, simply consisting of seating and shelving in one half of the small reading room when the Main Street library opened in 1914, have developed in ways not anticipated by the Library’s founders. The East Northport Library was established in 1940 primarily to provide a nearby library for the rapidly growing school-age population in the community. Separate children’s rooms were created, first in the East Northport library building in 1956 and then in Northport in 1958.
In the late 1990s expansive children’s rooms as well as inviting teen centers were constructed in the new library buildings. The popular teen center in the Northport building moved into its own room in the Northport Library in 2010.
Separate spaces have been set aside in the children’s rooms for special collections and activities. The Parents’ Collection was formed during the 1980s as a means of providing support for parents. This is complimented by the Educators’ Collection, a selection of books and other materials designed for those working with children, established in 2001. Both collections can be found in the Northport and East Northport Libraries.
The Rosemary Wells Collection, a permanent collection of works by the award-winning author and illustrator, was introduced in the East Northport building in 1997. East Northport’s “Read to Your Bunny Corner,” decorated with Wells’ illustrations, was added in 2002. The Imagination Center in the Northport building’s children’s room opened in 1998 to encourage creative puppet play. The Museum Cove in the Northport building held its first hands-on, interactive exhibit in 1999 and was expanded in 2007. The most recent addition in the Northport children’s room, the International and Global Literature Collection, allows young people to immerse themselves in other experiences and ways of thinking.
Special programming for children got its start in 1949 when school classes were invited to visit the library. In 1950 children’s story hours began, followed by the annual summer reading club. Now there is a full calendar of activities at the Library for parents and for children from birth through high school. And today’s children’s and teens’ resources come in many different formats, from books, magazines, graphic novels, and picture books for older readers to eBooks, audiobooks — many downloadable, and DVDs.
When the new East Northport Library building opened, a state-of-the-art automated catalog also made its debut. Accessible from computers in and outside the library via the Internet and frequently enhanced since 1997, it allows users to place holds on books and other resources housed in public libraries throughout Long Island, renew checked-out materials, consult book reviews, and register for library programs.
Internet use has also expanded. There are now over eighty Internet stations in the Northport and East Northport libraries and wireless access has been available since 2004. Online reference help is available when the library buildings are closed. Home access to a wide range of online research and educational resources, including foreign language instruction, requires only a library card. Downloadable eBooks, audiobooks, music, and videos are available at home and for portable devices.
Two additional services take the Library outside of its buildings. The Homeward Bound program offers home delivery of library materials to the homebound and since 2009 the Museum Pass program has provided free admission to many fine museums on Long Island and in New York City.
Topical monthly displays, showcasing the wealth of materials on the Library’s shelves, were introduced in 2000. The Millennium Bookball sculpture, featuring the community’s favorite books is on permanent exhibit at the Northport Library. The Tile Mural at the East Northport Library illustrates the area’s history. Both works of art were installed in the late 1990s.
The Northport-East Northport Public Library added a welcoming outdoor terrace to the Northport building in celebration of its 90th anniversary in 2004. With generous support from the community the Library Courtyard opened in 2005. A statue of the Little Prince from the book The Little Prince, written in Asharoken by French author Saint-Exupéry, was donated to the Library and installed in the courtyard in 2006.
The whimsical Bear Sculpture, carved in wood by its donor Frank Bono in 1997, returned to greet visitors to the East Northport Library as a bronze replica in 2007 in time for the building’s tenth anniversary. Community support sustained this project too.
The Northport-East Northport Public Library received national recognition for the quality of its services when it was named a four-star library by the Library Journal. It has maintained this ranking since 2008.
Tropical storm Irene and Superstorm Sandy in 2011 and 2012 caused major damage and power outages in the community. Through its many resources, programs, and the provision of additional recharging stations for electronics and wireless access, the Library and its staff offered a sense of normalcy to residents who lost power or who needed help in locating emergency assistance.
Stephanie Heineman retired in 2009 after twenty-one years as resourceful director of the Library. She was succeeded by Eileen Minogue, longtime assistant director, who expertly guided the library until her own retirement three years later. James Olney followed as director in 2012 and now leads the Library as it celebrates its centennial in 2014.
The Northport-East Northport Public Library looks back with appreciation to the determined residents who brought libraries to Northport and East Northport. It looks forward to continuing its tradition of meeting the educational, informational, and cultural needs of the community by providing innovative, superior library service.
Goldberg, Jeanne. “History of the Northport-East Northport Public Libraries.” Master’s thesis, Graduate Library School of Long Island University, 1965.
Johnson, Barbara and Cornelia Fortier, eds. Following the Harbor, 1894-1994: Northport Village’s First Hundred Years.
Northport, N. Y.: Incorporated Village of Northport, 1998.
Local newspapers: Long Islander, Northport Journal, Observer, Record, Times of Northport.
Northport-East Northport Public Library. Scrapbooks, newsletters, photographs. Local History Collection. Northport-East Northport Public Library, Northport, NY.
Northport-East Northport Public Library Services, click here.
Northport Literary and Library Union. Records. Local History Collection. Northport-East Northport Public Library, Northport, NY.
Northport Literary and Social Union. Records. Local History Collection. Northport-East Northport Public Library, Northport, NY.
Prepared by Barbara Johnson
Head of Local History/Client Services Departments
April 2006 (revised 2014)