The History of Bridgeport Public Library

The Bridgeport Public Library serves as the Principal Public Library for the City of Bridgeport, the largest municipality in Connecticut. A city of 140,000 residents in 16 square miles, Bridgeport is one of the most densely populated cities in the U.S.

The City’s racial and ethnic composition has shifted dramatically over the last two decades. With the onset of middle and upper class white flight to the suburbs in the 1950’s there was a decline in the City’s population that lasted well into the 1970’s. During the 1970’s the trend began to slow and by the 1980’s the City’s population had declined by only 860 residents as compared to 14,000 residents during the 1970’s. While 15,000 white residents moved elsewhere during the 1980’s an almost equal number of minority residents replaced them, with 9,000 of that number recent immigrants.

As an urban library, the Bridgeport Public Library has an essential role to play in improving the quality of life for city residents and contributing to core city revitalization. The Library developed a new long range plan which was adopted by the Library’s Board of Directors in November 2000.

The Mission Statement is:

We believe that libraries can change people’s lives and are a cornerstone of our democracy. The Bridgeport Public Library provides opportunities for our residents and taxpayers to pursue lifelong learning, cultural and economic enrichment and enjoyment. To accomplish this mission, we offer free and open access to creative works, knowledge and information from diverse perspectives.

The Library is a department of the City of Bridgeport. Statutory authority for governance lies with a Board of Directors whose appointment is confirmed by the City Council. The City Librarian is hired by, and reports to the Library Board of Directors. Responsibility for development of the Bridgeport Working web site lies with the staff of the Library’s History Center. The Bridgeport History Center is a local history collection, which includes materials relating to the history of Bridgeport, Connecticut and the general region. Materials in the collection include books on local history, manuscript material, photographs, genealogy information, and special collections on P.T. Barnum and the circus. The Department Head of the History Center has significant latitude and experience in dealing with issues related to the Library’s extensive collections of local history.

The Bridgeport Public Library has received grants from the Connecticut Humanities Council, the Connecticut State Library’s Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) program, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), National Film Preservation Foundation(NFPF) and several private foundations.

Library Renamed

Bridgeport Public Library’s Main Branch has a new name in honor of George A. Saden, a retired Superior Court judge who died at the age of 92 in 2003. Judge Saden had been a member of the Library Board of Directors since 1993. The Library has been formally renamed the Burroughs and Saden Memorial Library.

Celebrating 75 years of service at Broad and State Streets!

The current Burroughs Library Building opened to the public on April 25, 1927 culminating a two year construction process. It replaced the building donated to the Library through the generosity of Catherine Burroughs Pettingill who died in 1883.

A Short History of the Downtown Library

The Bridgeport Public Library was officially founded in 1881 as the result of action of the Connecticut General Assembly and the Bridgeport City Council. The Library purchased the collection of the Bridgeport Library Association and moved into rented quarters. In 1883, upon the death of Catherine Burroughs Pettingill, the Library Board received as a gift the building at the corner of Main and John Streets. In her bequest it says “My object is to benefit as much as possible, the inhabitants of my native place and of this vicinity, and also to perpetuate the name of my family…and that this gift will be of great and permanent benefit to this community.”

As you enter the building on the wall to your left is a brass plaque with a rounded top which was originally installed in the building at Main and John Streets. It is inscribed:

In grateful remembrance of
Catherine Burroughs Pettingill
through whose generosity
in 1883
this building was made possible
to the
people of Bridgeport
for public library purposes.

That building served as the home of the Library until the early 20th Century. Having outgrown the three floors of the Burroughs Building (the first floor was shops which provided a steady income to the Library), the Board assembled property to build a new Library.

The new library building was built at exactly the same time as D. M. Read and Company was building its flagship store just down the street. The current Burroughs Library Building opened to the public on April 25, 1927 culminating a two year construction process.

In the front hall of the new library, opposite the plaque honoring Catherine Pettengill, is the plaque for the construction of this building. The names which appear are prominent in Bridgeport’s history. The plaque reads:

Burroughs Public Library Building

erected A. D. 1925

Directors of the Bridgeport Public Library and Reading Room

President Henry A. Bishop

Vice-President Jerome Orcutt

Secretary and Treasurer Frederick A. Strong

Jacob E. Klein

William E. Burnham

Waldo C. Bryant

Elmer H. Havens

William B. Boardman

Edmund S. Wolfe

Librarian Henry A. Sanborn

(died February 22, 1926)

Librarian Orlando C. Davis

In the late 1960s major renovations were made to the building. They are commemorated by yet another (but smaller) plaque which reads “The 1967 renovation of the ground floor was made possible through funds donated by Virginia and Marie Soules in memory of their parents Blaise and Elizabeth Soules.”