Hershey Public Library
The campaign to establish a public library in Hershey began in the spring of 1912. In the April 11, 1912 issue of the Hershey Press, there was an announcement that Hershey would soon have a public library:
A LIBRARY FOR HERSHEY
WILL BE PLACED IN THE Y.M.C.A. OPEN TO PUBLIC
Hershey is to have a public library. The start in the collection of books is to be made by bringing one of the traveling library at Harrisburg here. This library will contain fifty volumes and will remain for six months when a new set of fifty will be secured. The order for these books has been sent to the State Librarian and the books are expected to arrive soon. While the books are to be kept at the Y.W.C.A., the library is to be controlled by a joint committee from both the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. and is to be used by the men as well as the women. The library will be open each Wednesday evening from six to eight o’clock and Saturday afternoons from two to five.
In order to secure books that will go to make up a permanent public library for the town a book social will be held in the near future. This social will be arranged by a joint committee representing both the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. The plan will be for each person attending the social to bring a book to be placed in the library.
It was a joint project of the Y.M.C.A. and the newly established Y.W.C.A. It was initiated with a group of books from the Pennsylvania State Library’s traveling library program and supplemented with donations from local residents. Hershey’s free public library opened in May with the State traveling library books and by June the library consisted of over 250 donated volumes plus the traveling library books. The library had a part-time librarian, Ella Kegerreis.
The library was located in the hall of the Y.W.C.A. [current location of ZooAmerica parking lot] and was open two days a week: Wednesday evening, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. and Saturday afternoon, 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Book were loaned for a two week period and patrons with overdue books were charged a $.01/day fine.
The local newspaper, the Hershey Press, took a great deal of interest in the progress of Hershey’s public library, and published frequent stories about the number of books in the library’s collection and many editorials advocating the need for greater support of the public library.
To provide better space and enhance the library’s accessibility, in early 1913 the library was moved to new quarters in the Y.M.C.A. building, located on the northeast corner of Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues.
The library continued to grow and a year later it boasted 887 volumes in its collection. In the spring of 1914, the library moved again to a hallway area between department of the Hershey Department Store building (future Cocoa Inn location). A news article printed in the April 9, 1914 edition of the Hershey Press, anticipated that the library would soon hold almost 1500 volumes in its collection.
While the library space in the store building was a bit larger, there was no room for a reading and reference room. The library continued to grow in patrons and volumes necessitating another move to the Hershey Central Theater (located on the southeast corner of Chocolate and Cocoa Avenues) in February 1915. The building was a center for community life. In addition to the library, the building was also home to an auditorium used for movies, plays and speakers, the Hershey Information and Employment Bureau, a jail, and a barbershop.
In its efforts to serve all of Hershey, the library began acquiring books written in Italian in December 1915.
The public library continued to operate out of the Central Theater building until 1928. That year the Central Theater was razed to prepare for the construction of the Hershey Community Building. During the years of construction, the library was temporarily relocated to the new Post Office’s second floor. In 1932 the Hershey Public Library moved to the first floor of the newly completed Community Building’s west wing. As the library’s collections grew, the east wing basement was designated for magazine storage. In addition to serving the local community, the library also served a the Hershey Junior College’s academic library.
In the 1960s the library flourished and prospered with the help of the Friends of the Hershey Library, which was established in 1963. With the help of Irene Heaps, who served as library director for 35 years, and Ed Zechman, first president of the Friends, the group presented cultural events such as musical concerts and visits from authors.
Under Ms. Heaps, the children’s department expanded, holding storytime and other activities for children.
The library operated out of the Community Building until 1981. In 1980 Hershey Foods Corporation acquired the building and began renovating it to make the building usable as office space. In anticipation of the building’s changing use, the main level of the M.S. Hershey Consolidated School, located on East Granada Avenue, was renovated for use by the public library. Renovations were completed and the library moved into the building in January 1981. Concurrent with the move to a new facility, The M.S. Hershey Foundation, which had had responsibility for the public library since 1938, turned the library over to Derry Township.
By the late 1980s the library had outgrown this home and it began to make plans to build a new facility to better serve the community. Land along Cocoa Avenue was secured and a new building was completed in early 1997. The new library opened to the public on February 23, 1997.