The Beginning
The Canton Public Library began in 1874 when Mr. Frank Webster, and other members of the Grand Army of the Republic, requested from the Town the amount of $500 to purchase books. This appropriation was to furnish a reading room established in 1873 in the Grand Army Hall on Washington and Church Street where Mr. Webster served as a voluntary Librarian collecting books donated by the townspeople. The request was granted with the stipulation that the books remain the property of the town for free use by the inhabitants. On June 6th the reading room became known as the Canton Public Library. A small agricultural library was absorbed in it. Bequests from the estates of George E. Downes and later Miss Caroline T. Downes provided the library with annual trust income of $350. The remainder of its support was from taxation, approximately $1,000 per year.

On completion of the Town Hall in 1877, the Canton Public Library opened in that building with $1500 appropriated. A catalogue was printed in 1883, and three or more supplements were later issued, before a card catalogue was established in 1895.

By 1898 the library held some 9100 volumes, circulating 19,073 volumes to borrowers. Patrons of the library were allowed a second library card to borrow non-fiction titles. The library was open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 2 to 6 p.m. and 7:30 to 9 p.m. The town's population was 4,636.

A New Building
The present building and grounds were bequested to the Town of Canton by Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Hemenway Canton philanthropists in 1901 "in consideration of [the] desire to promote the study of Science, Literature and Art in the Town of Canton, and for other good and valuable considerations...". Designed after the "Harvard" or "Old English bond" style it was built by architects Winslow and Bigelow for $70,000. On July 6, 1902, its doors were opened to the public.

In 1962 the town voted $261,175 for an addition of approximately 10,000 square feet brought the building to its present dimensions of 17,000 square feet.

In 1979 a building study was conducted and plans drawn for another expansion. The program proved overly ambitious for the economic times and as the needs and goals of the library changed, the plans were eventually set aside.

Old Colony Library Network
In 1986 the library joined with area public libraries to cooperate in automation and resource sharing. In 1988, the Old Colony Library Network was incorporated. After an effort with an unsuccessful library automation vendor, the Canton Library began circulating materials on line in April 1991. By this time, all cataloging was being done through the network database, and by Summer 1993, the remaining subject portion of the card catalog was removed from service.

There were 2 needed areas of change were projected for the 1990's. The first is the expansion of informational resources through telecommunications and other electronic means. Secondly, an expansion of the facility, particularly incorporating the changing service roles of the library. A space needs analysis, as part of a municipal study, was conducted in 1995 which determined that an increase in useful space of at least 50% was needed.

Introduction of the Internet
Access to the Internet developed throughout the nineties provided new challenges and opportunities for tremendously expanded services. Membership in the Old Colony Library Network (OCLN), as well as the South Eastern Massachusetts Library System (SEMLS) provided the advantages of group purchasing for authoritative on-line databases. The State of Massachusetts also provided statewide access to core periodical database services.

A building program based on needs and goals identified in strategic planning as well as continued broad community participation, was completed in 1998. A capital campaign, The Second Century Library Trust, was launched in 1999 to help propel the building project into the new millennium.

Renovation & Expansion
In June 2000, an historic town election voted 81% in favor of a $7,900,000 debt exclusion to renovate and expand the present building. Assisted by supplemental appropriations, $440,000 in private and corporate donations, and a $2,585,569 Mass. Library Construction Grant, the $9,771,000 project broke ground on June 23, 2002. The project was completed in 16 months. Following a gala celebration, a Family Day and Dedication was held on November 16, 2003 attended by over 3000 residents.
Librarians & Library at Town Hall
Canton Public Library while at Town Hall, seated: Mrs. Georgie Mansfield, Bessie Estey (in white); standing: Mrs. Will Downes (behind table)
Library at Town Hall
Canton Public Library at Town Hall
Canton Public Library ca, 1903
Canton Public Library, 1903
Canton Public Library 1965
Canton Public Library, 1965
roman render Canton Public Library
Render for 2003 renovation
Canton Public Library Washington St Façade
Canton Public Library, Present Day