Greenport’s Floyd Memorial Library, which sits proudly at the corner of First and North streets, turns 100 this year.
While the stately structure has seen some changes since it was built in 1917, its intentions have largely remained the same, according to assistant library director Poppy Johnson.
“It’s a clean, well-lighted space that’s open to the public,” she said. “We don’t discriminate against anybody and we offer ways for people to find out what they need to find out. People can educate themselves here.”
Before the library was established, Greenport had access to small circulating and lending libraries in churches and schools, according to a thesis on the library’s founding that Ms. Johnson co-wrote with Jeff and John Walden, who have worked at libraries on Long Island. The closest established library was in Southold, formed in 1797.
“People in Greenport would certainly have known what was going on a few miles east and west of them in neighboring hamlets, and at some point, they would want something similar for themselves,” the thesis states.
A Greenport Literary Society took shape in 1877. Its members wrote poems, read published works and debated issues of the time, such as the replacement of manual labor with machinery as a cause of poverty and distress, according to the thesis.
Around that time, the establishment of public libraries was becoming a movement. The Literary Society continued to develop and, in 1907, its members organized the Greenport Public Library Association. At an annual meeting in 1912, a member suggested “that some wealthy person donate a Memorial library,” according to the thesis — and that’s just what happened.
Grace Floyd of Greenport had inherited a large amount of money that her father, David Floyd, had earned through whaling and banking. The library was dedicated in his name and was constructed in 13 months at an estimated cost of $30,000, according to the thesis. The structure was designed to resemble Brecknock Hall, the Floyd family estate that David Floyd had built. Ms. Floyd was a descendant of William Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Ms. Johnson called Ms. Floyd a “very kind woman,” recalling the story that she created jobs for a few local men during the Great Depression by having them construct the stone wall that frames the library’s original entrance.
Since it was built, the library has acted as the “living room of the community,” Ms. Johnson said.
“People don’t always think of this, but the library does become a place where, when we’ve had hurricanes and outages of electricity or snowstorms, [that] there are times that people really need a community building that has light and heat and electricity and kind people and hot water,” she said. “It’s important for that as well as for the books and the other activities.”
In the beginning, she said, there were no librarians, just books on shelves. Sometimes the library would hire a boy to knock on doors to retrieve overdue books. Other early employees were there to keep the place heated.
“Now we have a hard-working, educated staff that can do things besides hounding people for overdues and keeping the place warm,” Ms. Johnson said. “We actually have a lot of programs; there’s a lot of stuff for children and for teens and adults that we keep going all the time. We can just do a lot of different things that people are interested in in here.”
Library director Lisa Richland said the staff today are what make the library.
“The staff is very welcoming, very nice,” she said.
Library programs were able to grow with an expansion in 1999 that created a community space where art shows, music performances, films and children’s activities take place. The building also became handicapped accessible at that time.
Other changes have been made in how the books themselves are organized. The library has moved away from the traditional Dewey Decimal System and opted for more of a bookstore flow. While librarians are happy to help someone locate a book, Ms. Johnson said, this allows visitors to browse.
“It’s not some arcane code that we’re trying to keep the books away from them,” she said, sitting among the cooking, crafts and crime sections lit by the library’s massive windows.
Looking to the next century, the library will continue to keep up with technology and offer a space where those with curiosity and a library card can learn, Ms. Johnson said.
The library will formally celebrate its 100th year with the community in early fall, Ms. Richland said.
“It’s always been a very important part of the community, so this is our responsibility to keep it going,” she said.