Mission & 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.

The Sherborn Library of the 21st century is a testimonial to the maxim “community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own.”  In 2011, the Trustees launched The Campaign for the Sherborn Library, Building Our Future, to raise funds toward the first major renovation of the building since its inception in 1971, when the doors opened to a new Library, a generous gift to the Town of Sherborn from Richard and Mary B. Saltonstall.

Mr. and Mrs. Saltonstall also endowed the Library generously to support operating expenses and capital needs to ensure the gift would perpetuate their expression of appreciation for this community where they had lived for more than 50 years.  In the following decades, the Library Trustees managed the endowment funds under an investment policy that adhered to strict fiscal discipline with the intention of growing the endowment to support the future facility and services.  The Trustees’ careful stewardship of the Library endowment aims to maintain the high standard set by the original gift, and their good practice has attracted additional contributions.    

Seven years after the launch of the Campaign for the Library of the 21st century, the endowment has grown to help support a portion of the cost of renovation and additional staffing needs.  Further, the example of philanthropy demonstrated by Mr. and Mrs. Saltonstall has come forward to inspire a new generation of donors.  Funding for our Town’s Library expansion and renovation project comes from a combination of private, state and local sources. More than $3.8 million in private funds have been raised, including gifts from more than 250 individual, foundation and corporate donors.  Sherborn has been awarded a $3.6 million construction grant by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.  Local municipal funding includes $1 million committed to the project which was voted unanimously at Town Meeting in 2015. 

Many volunteers donated their talents and time to make this project a reality in devotion to the community.  The Citizens’ Review Committee and the Library Design Study Committee assessed the programmatic requirements for providing service and spatial distribution.  The Fund-Raising Committee conceived of a successful Campaign, planned special events, and maintained donor data and communications.  The Library Building Committee managed the architectural and engineering specifications and supervised construction.  The Sherborn Library Interiors Committee worked with the interior designers and staff to approve furnishings that complement our building, support the work of the staff, and reflect community interests.  The Board of Library Trustees presented the renovation plans to Town boards and committees, advocated for the Library in state and local government, and managed the funding and stewardship of the Campaign.  The Friends of the Library raised awareness of the Library through their Annual Appeal and sponsoring Town-wide programs and events, including the Annual Arts and Crafts Fair which is now in its 45th year.  The Friends made the first significant contribution to the Campaign in response to a challenge grant that was met by foundations and private donors.  Over the years, many Sherborn citizens have participated in our boards and committees to make an end-result that is tailored to our community and built to last another 50 years.

When the community re-enters the renovated and expanded Library in 2018, which is designed by Richard Smith of Adams & Smith and Beacon Architectural Associates, they will find a spacious and aesthetically pleasing children’s wing, Tree House story-time room, private study and conference rooms, dedicated space for young adults, and a Community Room that seats 125 for lectures and presentations with a separate entrance permitting meetings after hours.  The new addition will be LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and fully accessible to handicapped persons.  The original Library will be refurbished and renewed, providing an accessible layout for the collections, new technology and staff office spaces, a café with displays, outdoor patio, and a cozy inglenook reading area by the fireplace.

The Librarians are eager to return to their sanctuary in 2018 to implement new programs and provide excellent service to our community.  While inhabiting the 1858 Town House, the Librarians are working on updating policies and long-range planning, designing exciting public programs, and striving to provide the best possible service during this major transition.  We are grateful to the Sherborn Community Center Board of Directors for their warm acceptance of our tenancy and housing the temporary community Library very comfortably during 18 months of construction.  The Sherborn Library began construction in January 2017, and is scheduled to re-open in May 2018. 

Elizabeth Johnston
Library Director, 1988-2022
October 2017


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 Director, 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, Sherborn Historical Society 

Historic Presentations

Two short audio-visual presentations offer the opportunity to learn more about the history of the Sherborn Library. We invite you to watch "Sherborn Library - The Story" for a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the many generous benefactors who have supported our library throughout its history. We invite you to view "Sherborn Library: A Prequel" to learn more about the history of our library's place in town as well as in the context of American libraries throughout the decades.