MEDFORD — When Michael Bloomberg and his younger sister, Marjorie, were growing up in the city in the 1950s, the Medford Public Library was the go-to place for their family.
Their parents, Charlotte and William Bloomberg, who bought their modest home in West Medford not far from the library, were avid readers who shared their passion for books and knowledge with their children.
For the next 65 years, Charlotte Bloomberg, who lived in Medford until her death in 2011 at age 102, was a regular library patron who joined one of its first book clubs and was known to pop in – sometimes on a daily basis – to grab her latest read.
Now, with the city’s new Charlotte and William Bloomberg Medford Public Library building, the Bloomberg siblings have paid a fitting tribute to their parents. The library’s name reflects a leading $3 million contribution made by Michael Bloomberg.
“My parents instilled in my brother and me a love of learning and reading, and the Medford library gave us a chance to broaden our horizons,” Marjorie Bloomberg Tiven said in August 2020, when the donation was announced.
“The Medford Public Library was one of the most important places in town,” Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, said at the time. “This gives us a way to say thanks and to help it keep bringing the gift of reading and learning to more families.”
The new library opened on Jan. 3 – at the same High Street location in the center of town – after two years of construction, during which the library temporarily relocated to a Medford office building.
The new library transforms what was an outdated, 60-plus-year-old building in disrepair and not fully accessible to a stunning and spacious facility that promises to become a vibrant center for literary, community, and social life for residents of all ages.
“It’s a pleasure to walk in,” said Barbara Kerr, the library’s director, a week after the new building opened. “The best part is seeing the public’s response. Someone was practically in tears” of happiness, she noted in a phone conversation.
While there are a few COVID-19-related delays – including postponing all opening ceremonies – Kerr has high hopes that the library’s expansive and accessible space will bolster its already robust array of programs.
“Your modern library is a community center,” she said.
With the naming of its state-of-the-art library, the city celebrates the Bloombergs’ legacy, Medford Mayor Breanna Lungo-Koehn said in an email. “Though I never had the chance to meet them, I know that their love of the community and dedication to expanding educational resources will be cherished by all who frequent the library,” the mayor said.
A civic building that serves Medford’s diverse population, the new library carries the stories of two Jewish families with historic ties to the city: the Bloombergs, and the family of the late Barbara and Marshall Sloane, the founder of Century Bank, who bought their first home in Medford before moving to Newton. Some 30 years ago, Century Bank established its headquarters in the city.
In 2018 – after the library snagged a competitive $12.2 million state construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Libraries Commissioners – the Sloanes’ son, Barry Sloane, stepped up to lead the Medford Public Library Foundation to raise the needed private donations to support the project.
“It was the least I could do to secure the future of education and intellectual pursuit” for the city, Sloane told the Journal in a phone conversation.
Michael Bloomberg’s donation capped the approximately $27 million library project. Bloomberg Philanthropies was very receptive to the library project, Sloane said.
“I think it was like going home” for Bloomberg, who used the library as a comfortable space to study in his youth, Sloane said.
The project came in some $7 million less than originally anticipated, said Sloane, who was president and CEO of Century Bank and the oldest of the Sloane children.
The foundation raised more than $5 million to date, exceeding its goal, he said.
“We were thrilled so many Medford people and former residents wanted to show their appreciation,” said Sloane. Century Bank contributed $200,000 to the new library.
Now that the building is open, Sloane feels a sense of accomplishment. “The job was under budget and lots of people have toured it and everybody likes it,” Sloane said.
“It’s my legacy to the city. It means a lot to me.”
“The new building is spectacular,” said Barbara Rutstein, a longtime Medford resident who taught math in the city’s public schools. In the last decade, Rutstein, who was born and raised in a Jewish family in Peabody, has volunteered at the library.
“I’ve never seen any children’s space like this,” Rutstein said, as she guided a visitor around the large, second-floor area for kids and teens. “You’re a child or you’re a parent and you walk in. This space is awesome.”
A series of colorful collages dedicated to Charlotte Bloomberg hang in the children’s section, commissioned by the library after it received donations in her memory after her death.
Rutstein, who’s been an active member of Medford’s Temple Shalom/the William and Charlotte Bloomberg Jewish Community Center, recalled Charlotte was beloved for greeting congregants at Friday night services. For years, she helped run the Temple’s popular thrift sale and in her 90s, Bloomberg served as the synagogue’s copresident.
The library has been Rutstein’s place to go to meet all her book club needs, she said.
“A community needs a thriving library.”