Prior to the year 1900, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church provided library service to the Islip community. In 1898, an Association Library was formed by women of the Islip community. There was a $1 annual membership fee to belong to the Association as well as a rental fee of 5 cents a week for each borrowed book. Rent for the building in which the library was created was $12 a month with heat that was supplied by a potbellied stove. By 1904, there were 50 paid members and 12 school subscribers. Membership never exceeded 80 paid members in subsequent years and the collection did not expand much either, remaining at about 300 volumes.
Initially, the Association rented space in a store on Monell Avenue, but in 1910, it moved to a store on Main Street that afforded more space. In 1923, the Association applied to the State for a charter as a school district public library through the first library board, which consisted of Ethel K. Garrup, Eugene R. Smith, Winnafred M. Haff, Mabel B. Doxsee, and Milo B. Worden.
The State Education Department inspector reviewing the association’s charter application noted that the association formed before the turn of the century was “leading a precarious and rather useless existence” and that “increasing dissatisfaction with conditions has recently led to a vigorous campaign for a real public library….” The inspection made in November, 1923 by the State Education Department also noted the library was receiving $1,500 a year from the school district and that the books in the library’s possession consisted of “many old” titles and constituted “a rather hit or miss collection,” but that provision was being made for $500 of new purchases. The inspection also noted that there were “three or four able and earnest women” behind the library push who were “determined to make it a success and to have it operated along the most improved lines of library practice.” The final recommendation by the State was that a charter be granted.
A Provisional Charter was ultimately granted by New York State in January, 1924 to the entity known as Islip Public Library. Thenceforth, the new Library’s operating budget and trustees required approval of its budget and trustees through a vote by district taxpayers of School District #2. At its last meeting on December 26, 1923, the Islip Library Association transferred its existing book collection of about 2,200 volumes and other assorted properties to the new Islip Public Library.
The Library moved into the Islip High School (now the Islip Town Hall annex) and began service on August 1, 1924. Alma Wright, the high school librarian, served as the public library’s first librarian. In 1925, Clara R. Allen assumed the position of librarian and first formal public library director. Her service to the Islip Public Library would span the next 30 years.
In the Library’s first year of operation, there were 587 registered patrons, and circulation totaled 9,718. By the end of 1929, the number of registered borrowers was 1,100. In 1934, St. Mark’s sold its collection of 6,000 volumes to the Islip Public Library for $300. By 1939, the reported circulation was 40,388, and the salary of the overseeing librarian by 1940 was $1,200 annually. The library was outgrowing its location, and the district needed to reassume the space occupied by the Library. The search for a permanent site became even more urgent in October, 1940 when Mrs. Allen’s application for an Absolute Charter was denied by the State Education Department, which cited inadequate facilities as a factor in its decision.
Soon thereafter, plans were made to move the Library from the high school to the Goldsworth Building, a structure on the southwest corner of Main Street and Monell Avenue. The “new” library consisted of two rooms, with a Main Street entrance for the adults and a side entrance for children on Monell Avenue. The book collection exceeded 11,000 volumes, of which more than 3,000 were children’s books. The 1,696 registered borrowers represented about half of the community population at that time.
Meanwhile, the search for a permanent site continued. After numerous false starts and defeated proposals, the Board of Education offered “the old school grounds” located between Monell and Union Avenues as a site for a new library. Mrs. Allen and Board President Hanford worked to enlist community support, and in 1954, Eugene S. Helbig of Bay Shore was selected as architect. In February, 1955, a bond issue was finally approved by the voters of the school district by a vote of 265-35.
The new “Y-shaped” brick library that opened to the public on July 7, 1956 was designed by architect Eugene S. Helbig of Bay Shore, New York to fits its residential surroundings. The north extension was the children’s room and the south extension was the reference room. The central portion of the “Y” housed the book stacks with a staff workroom and a lounge to the rear of that. The main entrance into the building was on Union Avenue, and a side entrance provided entry directly into the Children’s Room. Having realized the goal of a new library, Mrs. Allan asked that a successor be appointed library director. She went on to serve as library trustee from 1957 to 1963.
Robert Gildersleeve replaced Mrs. Allen as Director, serving from October, 1956 to August, 1957. In July of 1957, the beautiful Tiffany grandfather clock that still graces the main floor was presented to the library by Mr. and Mrs. Buell Hollister of Islip.
Mr. Gildersleeve was followed as library director by Angeline Relich, who had served in the Buffalo and Lake Erie Public Library. She served as director from September, 1957 to January, 1960.
Rosalind Forebaugh Robinson became the fourth director of the Library. She had served as Mrs. Allan’s assistant from 1938 to 1943 and had worked in the Syracuse Public Library from 1945 to 1960. She became director on March 1, 1960.
On June 19, 1964, Islip Public Library became the first library in Suffolk County to have a budget vote in a library building. By 1967, circulation reached 89,000. In 1972, Donald Denis, A.I.A. was asked to draw up plans for an addition to “the Union Avenue Building” and on August 27, 1974, the voters approved a bond issue for a proposed library expansion. Under Mrs. Robinson’s direction, an impressive addition was added to the Library, which took the building from 5,801 to 22,000 square feet. The newly expanded library was opened April 19, 1976. Mrs. Robinson retired from library service in December, 1983 and remained a local and loyal patron.
Ann Geddes became the fifth director of the Islip Public Library in 1983. She oversaw a renovation in 1995 that encompassed the circulation and adult departments and which expanded computer and Internet access for patrons. She was a champion for children’s services for the library’s youngest patrons. She retired in ill health in early 1996.
Mary Schubart, formerly Director of the Brookhaven Free Library, became the Islip Public Library’s sixth director in April, 1996. In 2000-01, following a successful referendum for a $3.1 building project in late 1999, 4,900 square feet were added to the Library to create a new expanded children’s department and a large, divisible meeting space where the children’s department had formerly been situated. Several years later, the Library later purchased an adjacent piece of property on Union Avenue for the purpose of creating much-needed additional parking spaces, but under intense local pressure, the Library sold that property and abandoned the parking plan. In 2011, a renovation of the main floor of the library was undertaken to provide for a better electrical foundation for expanding technologies, to reallocate square footage from the lobby spaces for collection growth, provide additional seating options, and to establish a room for teen services.