We are excited to announce that throughout 2017, PPL will celebrate 150 years of education, entertainment, and discovery for all.
The year-long celebration of PPL’s “birthday” will include special events and programs at all locations. “The story of the Library is the story of our community,” notes Executive Director Sarah Campbell. “This is an exciting time to reflect not only on how the Library has been important in the history of Portland, but also on the library offerings and partnerships that bring the community together and build our civic life with one another.”
Celebrations kick off on Wednesday, January 25 with birthday treats at all branch locations. In addition to special events planned throughout the year that include historical exhibits in the Lewis Gallery at the Main Library as well as pop-up exhibits across the system and a family-friendly BooktoberFest celebration this fall, we will have 150th commemorative stickers, bags, and more as giveaways or for purchase to mark this exciting anniversary.
Wednesday also sees the launch of “My Card, My Story,” a collection of crowdsourced stories about the unique library experiences of PPL patrons, staff, and community members. We invite you to contribute your personal stories about what your library card means to you. We will feature these perspectives on our social media channels and publications throughout the year. Patrons are asked to submit their story at any PPL branch location using one of our story cards or by completing this Google form.
Portland Public Library was incorporated on January 22, 1867, just six months after the devastating Portland fire of 1866 which left more than 1,500 buildings destroyed and 10,000 people homeless. Prior to this time, Portland’s libraries were private institutions where only paying members could view or borrow materials. The then-radical notion of a public library open to all was described by Mayor Charles Chapman as “so veritable a home of true democracy … an atmosphere of philosophy, knowledge, and fancy.” Freedom and inclusiveness remain core PPL values.
Today, Portland Public Library provides service and support to 675,000 visitors annually at four locations and a bookmobile and is the most visited cultural institution in Maine.
PPL Board President
Throughout 2017, some of our partners will share their perspective on PPL in honor of our 150th anniversary celebration.
Today’s guest author is Beth Bordowitz, who serves as the President of the Library’s Board of Trustees. Beth is currently reading What It Takes, The Trespasser, and any Portugal travel book she can get her hands on.
“What an atmosphere of philosophy, knowledge and fancy, – with all of their kindred relations – will pervade this edifying place.”
Portland Public Library (PPL), founded 150 years ago, was opened to the public with great fanfare with those prophetic words from Mayor Chapman. Originally housed in City Hall, the Library has made its home in many places throughout the Portland community, including the iconic Baxter Building just blocks from the current Main Library.
PPL now comprises four branches, a Bookmobile, and an Annex for more collection holdings. We offer ebooks, movies, and music, and we host programs, discussions, and events. While we have evolved, one thing remains constant: We continue to serve as the “vast repository of learning for the continual reference and use of all enquirers” foreseen by Mayor Chapman at our opening.
And the Library is so much more than a repository. We are a dynamic, accessible resource for all in the community. We are a place to use a computer, learn a skill, receive help filing your taxes, join with other members of the Portland community to engage in civic discourse, visit a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio.
As we embark on our 150th year, we will be doing what we do best: sharing stories. When you visit your favorite branch, we may ask if you would like to share a story of what the Library means to you. The story of the Library is the story of our community, and I invite you to add your voice to those of your neighbors, of your fellow patrons, and of our many partners in the community.
As the President of the Board of Trustees in this historic 150th year, I invite everyone in the community to visit the Library, to borrow a book or a movie – at your favorite branch or electronically from wherever you might be – to take in the changing art exhibits in the Lewis Gallery or a performance in one of our spaces, to lend your perspective to a discussion or a public meeting. Join us in celebrating all PPL has to offer. Learn why we are saying: 150 years of education, entertainment and discovery for all. PPL: It’s a long story.
The Portland Room and Archives has several resources that are useful when researching the history of a given business or industry. The Maine Register is a business directory covering the State of Maine. It is organized by county and then towns within the county. Included is a classified business index and a manufacturers’ section, which includes the names and locations of businesses as well as the names of owners or principal officers, purchasing agents and sales offices. There are also a lot of other fun facts included as well, for example, how the counties voted for governor and presidential candidates in election years, and current postage rates.
The Annual Report of the Bureau of Industrial and Labor Statistics for the State of Maine, covering 1887-1910, often contain extensive reports on industries in Maine in a given year. The 1890 edition is dedicated to agriculture and the strikes among the granite workers that year.
Another great print resource is Edward H. Elwell’s 1875 edition “The Successful Business Houses of Portland.” Organized by type of business and then business names, he gives a history of the business and goods they sell or manufacture.
Charles F. Guptill & Co. ca. 1910
from the Portland Room Photo Archives
Sometimes information about businesses can be gleaned from viewing the PPL’s Picture and Photo Collections.
The newspapers can be sources of information for this type of research. There are two indexes that can be used. The Jordan Index covers sixteen newspapers, primarily published in Portland, between 1785-1835. The Maine News Index covers the Press Herald newspapers between 1945-1992. After 1992, the newspapers can be found in the Maine Newsstand database.
Finally, check out PPL’s Digital Commons. Much of what you find here are abstracts of articles the Portland Room has in print. We have also digitized the 1882 Goodwin Atlas and the 1914 Richards Atlas, that show streets, addresses, footprints of buildings and what the buildings are made of, as well as a print copy of 1957 Sanborn fire insurance map.