Established in 1885, the Paterson Free Public Library is New Jersey’s oldest public library created via a vote by the citizens of Paterson. The first library was located at 54 Church Street. The second, at Church and Market, was the former home of the Charles Danforth family and given to the city by Mary Danforth Ryle in memory of her father. Mrs. Ryle subsequently financed a substantial expansion of the library right before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1902. The present site of 250 Broadway was chosen after the Great Fire. Funds for the present building were donated by Mary Elizabeth Danforth Ryle, once again in memory of and as a memorial to her father, Charles Danforth, one of Paterson’s leading industrialists. Designed by Henry Bacon (who later designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.) the present library, the Danforth Memorial, was opened in 1905.
Seven branch libraries were gradually added to the library system during the first part of the 20th Century – there was one branch in each ward.
In 1995 the Library system was consolidated in order to prepare for automation. The number of branches was reduced from seven to three. The remaining branches were: First Ward, Totowa, and Southside. Hurricane Irene destroyed the First Ward branch in 2011. There is now branch service at the Christopher Hope Center on Temple Street.
Many changes have taken place over the years in the Danforth (Main) Library. The Community Learning Center was started in 1986. The Library has strengthened its African-American and Spanish language collections. An Arabic/Islamic collection has been established at the Southside branch through a New Jersey State Library special collections grant. A Filipino collection, a gift of the Philippine ambassador to the United States, has been established at 250 Broadway.
In March of 2002 the library installed 35 computers received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Since then over 100 computers have become available for staff and patrons. These computers offer internet access and word processing/publishing software for our patrons. Cablevision has generously supplied us with internet service that is made available as a free wi-fi network for patrons.
Plans for the future include the continued expansion of the Community Learning Center with emphasis on family literacy.