Library History

Dorchester Memorial Public Library: A Brief History

by Krista Johansen

IN 2010, THE DORCHESTER MEMORIAL PUBLIC LIBRARY celebrates its fiftieth year as part of the Albert-Westmorland-Kent Library Region of the New Brunswick Public Library Service. Although the current library’s direct origins lie in the Memorial Library founded after the Second World War by the Dorchester branch of the Royal Canadian Legion[1], Dorchester has a long history of “lifelong learning”. Shortly after the 1839 foundation of a Mechanics’ Institute in Saint John, one was established in Dorchester[2]. An idea originating in Britain in the early nineteenth century, Mechanics’ Institutes were intended for self-improvement. Many were also associated with the Sunday School and Temperance movements. The provision of lectures on a wide variety of subjects by speakers from many different fields was the primary function of such institutes, but a lending library was a common feature. It is quite probable that the Dorchester Mechanics’ Institute would have established a small library for use by its members.

The Memorial Library founded by the Legion was located in the Legion’s own building. In 1960, the library joined the Albert-Westmorland-Kent Library Region; AWK was the first regional library system in the province, having been formed in 1957[3]. Shortly after becoming part of the regional system, the Dorchester Library moved to Woodlawn Avenue. However, the small white building it occupied for over three decades was not large enough for the growing collection and could not meet the needs of a modern library. In 1989, the Dorchester Historical Society purchased the old Payzant and Card general store building from the Village of Dorchester and began to restore it, intending that the exterior of the building should resemble its appearance around 1860. Once the restoration was complete, the library became the main tenant, occupying the front part of the ground floor. New shelving was paid for by the village, the Lions and the volunteer fire department donated audio-visual equipment, and in late 1992 the Dorchester Public Library opened up in its present location. The official opening of the new library facility was celebrated in January 1993.

For fifty years as a part of the AWK Library Region, and for over a decade before that, the Dorchester Memorial Public Library has made a wide selection of books and magazines available to the people of Dorchester and the surrounding area. These days, the collection is not limited by what is found on one library’s shelves; as part of the New Brunswick Public Library Service, the Dorchester Public Library is able to bring in books from every public library in the province. By becoming a member of the library, New Brunswickers gain access to hundreds of thousands of books on every topic under the sun. The library catalogue is searchable from home via the internet, and free public access computers are available in the library. The Dorchester Public Library continues to add new books to its collection, and to encourage Dorchester’s young people to explore as far as their imaginations will take them through programmes such as weekly Storytime and the NBPLS’s Summer Reading Club, the Hackmatack Reader’s Choice Club during the school year, and regular class visits by the younger grades of the Dorchester Consolidated School. Throughout the year, guest speakers at the library continues the devotion to “lifelong learning” begun by Dorchester’s Mechanics’ Institute over 150 years ago. In its Golden Jubilee year as part of the AWK Library Region, the Dorchester Memorial Public Library celebrates this long tradition.

[1] Liaison, March 1993, p. 7.
[2] MacNaughton, Katherine Flora Cameron. The Development of the Theory and Practice of Education in New Brunswick. University of New Brunswick Historical Studies, no. 1. Fredericton: University of New Brunswick, 1947, p. 105.
[3] “Basic Information on the Library Set-up in the Province of New Brunswick”. NBPLS internal document, October 1976, p. 4.

[essay copyright © Krista Johansen, January 2010, reprinted by permission.]

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