Director Brian Sylvester is pleased to announce that the Rochester Public Library will hold a reception in honor of Lillian E. Parshley, the city’s first librarian, and unveil a portrait of her that will hang in one of the two reading rooms.
The ceremony will take place at the library, 65 South Main St., Friday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m., and is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.
Parshley served as the city’s first librarian for more than half a century — from 1893 to 1945 — and oversaw the institution’s dramatic expansion over the course of her 52-year tenure as its leader. The ceremony honoring her is part of an ongoing celebration of the library’s 125th anniversary.
The Rochester Public Library was established by a vote of the city council in June of 1893, after a concerted effort from the public led by the Grange and the Rochester Courier. The city’s first free public library was built from the collection held by the Rochester Social Library company, itself a city institution dating back to 1792. Roughly 2,000 volumes were donated to the new public library, and the city appropriated funds annually to maintain the building and collection.
Parshley was born in Strafford and moved to Rochester as a young girl. She graduated from the Maple Street School — the city’s high school at the time — and worked briefly in her father’s insurance agency, where she was trained as a business executive. That training and experience led the first Rochester Board of Library Trustees to hand pick Parshley to oversee the newly-created organization.
During her tenure, she stewarded the library through the construction of the stately Carnegie building in 1905 and oversaw that building’s renovation in 1941. The remodel included the installation of a second floor museum in what is now the Carnegie Gallery, featuring artwork from the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts.
The portrait of Parshley had long been kept in a non-public special collections area within the library, along with other artifacts from its history, but will now be prominently displayed as a lasting tribute.
“Lillian Parshley’s legacy lives on each and every day within the walls of the public library,” Director Sylvester said. “We are excited to be able to honor her and celebrate the work she did to make this invaluable institution everything it is today.”
Parshley oversaw the library until her passing in January 1945, and in that time guided its growth from a collection of 2,000 titles in a few small rooms to a thriving library of more than 40,000 titles housed in its own freestanding building.
Today, the Rochester Public Library is the seventh largest public library in New Hampshire, welcoming over 150,000 visitors annually and boasting a collection of more than 80,000 physical items as well as a burgeoning digital collection.