Mission and History


The mission of the Sherborn Library is to provide the community with access to information and to promote life-long education, recreational reading, and cultural advancement.



There have been several libraries in town over the years. The first were purchased collections for specific purposes, although we do not know when they started nor how many there were. The earliest known was the Agricultural Library--a collection of reference books supervised by Bowen Adams and kept at his house (next to Pilgrim Church).
The Social Circle formed in 1808 for the purpose of setting up a social library. It was a private club whose members bought, shared, and sometimes discussed biographies, history and travel books and even some fiction (though novels were generally looked down upon). The books were housed in George Clark's store (located on the site of the Gandhi statue).

And third, there was a small collection of history, philosophy and science books with the Plain School District (61 North Main) and kept at a house across the street. (The other school districts may also have had a few volumes to lend out.)
By 1860 Rev. Theodore Dorr, minister of First Parish Church, was successful in convincing the town to combine all these collections (625 volumes) and fund a central, town library. It was located in the middle, first-floor meeting room of the then new 1858 Town House and was open Saturday afternoons and evenings and on Town Meeting days. At first it was for "adults only," but in 1906 the library began to include children's books and encourage children to come. That library served the town until 1914, although becoming increasingly crowded.

In 1914, benefactor William Bradford Homer Dowse donated a fine new, brick library in memory of his parents, Rev. Edmund and Elizabeth Dowse. It had a reception room, two reading rooms, and stacks, with a basement meeting room which also housed the Historical Society. At that time there were almost 6000 books in the collection. The Trustees hired a professional to set up a catalogue system for the non-fiction and had the building open three afternoons and two evenings a week and the reading room on Sunday afternoons. For the first time magazines also circulated. That building was not outgrown until the 1960s. With the building of the present library the Dowse Library became the town hall until, in 1985, it was sold to the Life Experience School.

The present library building was the very generous gift of Richard and Mary B. Saltonstall and was built on the site of Sawin Academy-Dowse High School, opening in 1971. Designed by architect James A. S. Walker, the building was featured on the cover and main article of the New England Architect magazine in September 1972, as an outstanding example of excellence. Acting head librarian, Edna Roth, organized the move of c. 20,000 books from the old building to the new (townspeople ferried hundreds of boxes via cars and station wagons). The new space allowed for many new programs, and the Friends of the Sherborn Library, organized in 1971, has funded many improvements over the years. The current Library Elizabeth Johnston was appointed Library Director in May, 1988.

Sherborn is very fortunate to have had such a succession of library benefactors and dedicated librarians over the years.

-Betsy Johnson