Submitted by countylibrary on

If you wanted to visit the Burlington County Library 100 years ago, you would head to downtown Mount Holly and look for a building owned by the YMCA. A single room inside served as the main depository for the modest collection of books being shuttled to rural community “library stations” all over the county. Warmly welcomed by residents happy to call it their own, the library was surely a humble operation back then. But my, how we’ve grown!

Today, the county library isn’t a single room, or even a single building. It’s a far-reaching system that includes a network of branches and member libraries strategically scattered throughout the region. And all it took was a century of progress fueled by determination, collaboration and, perhaps, a little bit of luck to get us here.

Burlington County’s one-room library on Water Street, now Rancocas Road, opened to the public on Oct. 7, 1921, but it didn’t stay put for long. In November, the fledgling operation relocated to a larger room in another YMCA building on nearby Paxson Street. By 1925, it was time to stretch out again and the little library moved into a building at High and Union streets, also in the county seat. In the ensuing years, library services rolled along as planned. Books were circulated to sites all over the county, including community stations and schools, and readers were pleased to have access to a nice selection of titles. The popular service flourished. At the same time, the county continued to attract new residents and by 1940 more patrons were visiting the library on a regular basis. To accommodate the growth, two additional rooms in the Mount Holly building were renovated for library use.

In the decades that followed, Burlington County’s population soared. The modest library became cramped and the need for more space, more funding and more personnel was soon apparent. Not surprisingly, local community libraries, including those in Burlington City, Pemberton, Riverton and Florence, were also feeling the strain and taking their own steps to renovate and expand.

Fortunately for us, relief came in 1960 when the county library relocated within Mount Holly once again, this time to the former county clerk’s office on High Street. Located behind the historic courthouse, the new quarters provided some much-needed elbow room, including a separate children's area and a bookmobile shelter that doubled as the gathering space for library programs. A shift in thinking about the best way to deliver services was also well underway. The once-vital community stations had fallen out of favor and the library’s first “walk-on” bookmobile began delivering books to areas of the county without library service; a second bookmobile was soon added. The concept of establishing permanent library branches throughout the county also began to take root. And with our operation in Mount Holly still feeling the strain of overcrowding, a spacious new headquarters was being discussed. Big changes that would lay the groundwork for the system we know today were looming, and just a few years later, those changes began to take shape.

In 1966, we introduced our first full-service branch to the public. Cinnaminson Library was established in response to strong public interest and a high demand for bookmobile service in the area. The township had awarded a contract to build the new facility a year earlier and by the end of its first year of operation, it had circulated more than 52,000 items. Meanwhile, as the decade drew to a close, our modest county library with limited facilities was luring in more and more patrons with story hours, puppet shows, summer reading activities, author visits, history lectures and other programs. Our library system now included the bustling library in Mount Holly, our Cinnaminson branch, 14 community libraries designated as “member libraries,” and the two bookmobiles offering direct service to the residents.

The next few years would prove to be a pivotal, if hectic period for our busy library system. It was time to adjust and expand. And more change was imminent!