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Jervis Public Library

The Jervis Public Library Association was incorporated in 1894 by an act of the New York state legislature.  The Association took its name from prominent American civil engineer John Bloomfield Jervis, who bequeathed funds, property, and his personal collection of books and papers for the purpose of founding a library facility for the citizens of his home town, Rome, NY.  Although a downtown site for a new library building was debated, in the end it was decided that the Jervis homestead would make an ideal location for Rome's public library.  Melvil Dewey, inventor of the famous Dewey Decimal System for classifying books, helped draft Jervis Library's bylaws.

On July 15, 1895, Jervis Public Library was ready to open its doors. The community was filled with expectation. Gala opening ceremonies were held outside, amidst fine, warm weather. Addresses were given by prominent citizens; a chorus provided musical interludes. The ceremonies inaugurated what would become a major public information center in central New York. Well before the 10:00 a.m. opening the next day, a number of children had arrived to compete in a contest to see who would take out the first book.  Thus began the history of Jervis Public Library.

John B. Jervis, leading early American civil engineer and the library's founder, grew up in Rome (then called Fort Stanwix) in the early nineteenth century. He attended local public schools and was interested in higher education, but his family could not afford it. When the construction of the Erie Canal began in 1817, he was hired as an axeman. While working on this job he began an informal education as a civil engineer. By 1819 Jervis was resident engineer in charge of the canal's middle section. In four years he was superintendent of fifty miles of completed canal. In 1827 he became chief engineer on the Delaware and Hudson canal and railway system project.

In both canal and railway engineering, Jervis was a supreme innovator. At a time when railroads were just beginning to appear in America, he drew plans for the "Stourbridge Lion," the first locomotive to run on this continent. He also invented the swiveling, four-wheel "bogie" truck, to keep the engine from jumping the track when rounding curves. Mr. Jervis was chief engineer of the Croton Aqueduct, the supplier of abundant fresh water to New York City and a major engineering feat of its time. He directed completion of the Croton Aqueduct Dam and the Harlem River High Bridge. Retiring to his home in Rome in 1866, he was active in organizing the Rome Iron Mill, of which he was a trustee until his death. John B. Jervis remained dedicated to intellectual pursuits, most prominently engineering and religion. Ten years after his death in 1885, his home became Rome's public library. His personal collection featuring rare early railroad, canal, and aqueduct documents is still housed within Jervis Public Library.

When the library first opened, the collection was 8,500 volumes, plus many pamphlets, state and government publications, and other related materials. An annex was built in 1925 so the library could expand. In 1964, a modern library capable of housing 100,000 volumes was joined to the original Jervis house and annex. Further funds from endowment and the city were used in 1971 to enlarge the library's capacity to 150,000 volumes. In 1988 another addition, with elevator, was built to expand the library's main lobby and make accommodations for accessibility.

 The first librarian was Marjorie Elizabeth Beach, a former teacher, and a grandniece of John B. Jervis. In the early days, the library was open seven hours a day, Monday through Saturday, but the time open each day was divided into three intervals. The public areas of the library were furnished with polished oak bookcases and comfortable chairs. All patrons were asked to register their visits in a book provided. Both the card catalog and the adult book shelves were accessed by the librarian only. Children's books, however, were on open shelving.

 Members of the first Board of Trustees included Edward Comstock, Dr. W.J.P. Kingsley, W.D. Manro, and Dr. Thomas Macomb Flandreau. Mr. Comstock was the President of the first Board of Trustees. In 1881 and 1882 he had been Mayor of Rome. Dr. Kingsley was the Vice President of the first Board of Trustees. He was a medical doctor who in 1859 founded a hospital for the treatment of malignant growths. In Rome he also served as Mayor (from 1895 to 1899) and President of the Farmer's National Bank, which he helped organize. The first Secretary of the Board of Trustees was W.D. Manro, Superintendent of Schools in Rome. Dr. Thomas Macomb Flandreau, also a medical doctor, was not an officer of the first Board of Trustees, but was perhaps the most scholarly trustee. He spoke French and German fluently and wrote poetry. He also helped to found Rome Hospital.

 The second head librarian was Eugenie Stevens, who held this position from 1900 to 1921. She was one of several who helped Librarian Beach catalog the original collection and was promoted to the directorship from her position as Miss Beach's assistant. Miss Stevens experimented for a while with opening the library on Sundays.

 In Jervis Library's early years, funds were in short supply, and the library's growth was hampered by an austerity budget. A wave of improvements, however, hit the library during the early 1920's, including the building of the 1925 addition. At the forefront of many of these improvements was the library's energetic third librarian, Clara W. Bragg, who was in charge from 1922 to 1923. She was a dynamic, highly educated woman, who had studied literature and modern languages at Cornell University and had served as reference librarian at Columbia University. Under her direction, Jervis Library opened a branch in East Rome.

 From 1924 to 1958, Helen Salzman was the librarian. Coming to this position from several years' experience in other libraries, she had a very professional approach. She was constantly introducing improvements and innovations in areas ranging from instituting children's holiday story hours to devising a better system for reserving books.

 When the new addition to the library had been built in 1925, the old part of the library, in the Jervis house, was also remodeled and refurbished. In 1931, Henrietta Huntington Wright died and left to Jervis Library an estate, which, for the time, was considerable, and improved the library's funding. Miss Wright was a descendant of Benjamin Wright, John B. Jervis' supervisor during the construction of the Erie Canal.

 Fifth Director William A. Dillon, educated at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University, presided from 1958 until mid-1985, and spearheaded the transformation of the library into a major area cultural institution. Under Mr. Dillon, both the 1964 and 1971 additions were built to provide space for up to 150,000 volumes. Over the years the library's circulation rose continually. The depth of the library's collection was such that author Alex Haley (Roots; co-author The Autobiography of Malcolm X) completed various writing projects at Jervis and publicly praised the library. Director Dillon organized the library's collection of John B. Jervis papers and engineering drawings; acquired the Bright and Huntington Historic Papers which were microfilmed and made available to scholars; unearthed John B. Jervis' handwritten autobiography and guided it to publication as The Reminiscences of John B. Jervis: Engineer of the Old Croton, edited by Neal FitzSimons; and in the early 1980's began the library's automation. In 1990, Roman Dr. F. Daniel Larkin, noted scholar and historian, published Jervis' biography, John B. Jervis: An American Engineering Pioneer.

 Carole Fraser Fowler, educated at Colby and Douglas Colleges and Rutgers University, became Jervis' sixth Director in 1985 and was Director during the library's Centennial celebration. Her focuses until her retirement in 2005 included improving accessibility via the 1988 addition, and incorporating new technologies in order to access a wider range of information. Automated circulation of materials began in February 1986.

 Lisa M. Matte is the library's seventh director.  She received her library degree from SUNY Albany in 1997, and joined Jervis Library as a reference librarian that year.  In her tenure as librarian, Ms. Matte expanded the library's services to teens, forming a successful teen advisory group and creating the library's YAWeb website for teens.  Her programs were recognized by the YALSA division of the American Library Association, and written about in a book about teen services in libraries. After a brief stint as Assistant Director, Ms. Matte became Director in 2005.  She oversaw the project to upgrade the library's HVAC system in 2007, and seeks to expand the library's role as an information provider in the community.

 While Jervis Library remains committed to providing materials in traditional formats, computer technology and the Internet have revolutionized the library like nothing since the Dewey Decimal System. Computer automation has improved circulation and information services and increased the efficiency of record retention, communications, and office work. At a time when information is rapidly exceeding the bounds of print, access to the Internet is of critical importance to those the library serves. Jervis Library is proud to have earned Library Leader status, awarded by the NYS Education Department and Board of Regents to libraries that provide the highest levels of access to the Internet and electronic resources.  Internet access computers are in constant use by children, teens, and adults.

 Jervis will continue to strive to meet the changing needs of its patrons by providing an increasing array of other technology-based services beyond the Internet, including word processing for all ages, computer printouts at a nominal fee, a collection of circulating computer software and multimedia titles, and a website through which many of the library’s unique resources may be accessed without the need to visit the library building. The library acknowledges its role in introducing and assisting people with the technology it provides through its professional librarians, who offer periodic computer orientation and Internet training classes, and who assist and guide people in using library computers one-on-one as time permits.

 As Jervis Library moves ahead in its second century, it is financially challenged by the increasing demands for electronic and telecommunications services while, at the same time, demand for traditional services shows little decline. Fortunately, thus far, the bulk of the library's hardware and software automation costs has been borne by grants, gifts, donations, and bequests.

 In addition to providing information, research resources, education, and creative use of leisure time, the library sponsors many special services, including adult lectures, author visits & book discussion series, and numerous teen and children's programs, activities and events. Jervis’ Youth Advisory Committee, a volunteer group of teens, helps the library respond to the needs of its young patrons.

 Through parallel development of both traditional services and technology, Jervis Library continuously seeks to expand its vistas and capabilities to meet the challenges of the next 100 years. 

 This page updated 1/09.  PAC

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