The Forbes Library opened in 1894, as a result of a bequest by Judge Charles E. Forbes, who wished to build a public library for the citizens of Northampton. The massive three-story stone building, which is on the Register of Historic Buildings, was designed by William Brocklesby to be completely fire proof with all steel framing and stone, slate, and copper exterior. A complete renovation of the interior was finished in 2001 accentuating many of the Forbes’ unique features such as the glass mezzanine floors, expansive spaces, and the Guastavino arches which actually support the second floor.
The first Librarian of Forbes was Charles Ammi Cutter, who previously created the Cutter Expansive Classification System while he was Librarian at the Boston Athenaeum. He implemented his system at Forbes Library, which is one of only five libraries in the world still using the Cutter System. Originally the library for the newly founded Smith College across the street, Forbes still maintains a close connection to its collegiate neighbors as well as to the vibrant town of Northampton.
The Forbes collections are large and varied including not only popular fiction and non-fiction, large arts and music and children’s departments, and an impressive art gallery, but also an extensive local history and genealogy collection for Hampshire County as well as the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum. Forbes also offers Northampton an array of programming and reference services for both children and adults, ranging from author readings, to music and dance demonstrations, dramatic readings and performances, to writing workshops, book and poetry discussion groups, internet training workshops, knitting, chess, and storytime. Catering to underserved populations of the community, Forbes offers an Outreach Program which delivers materials to nursing homes and the homebound. Forbes Library is a member of the Massachusetts Library System and the C/W MARS network of libraries in Central and Western Massachusetts.