The Cortland Free Library's roots extend back to 1886 when a South Cortland Farmer, Franklin Hatch, realized his dream of endowing a public library. Hatch's library, located on Court Street opposite the fire station, served Cortland residents nearly 40 years. During the early 1920's, Hatch library board president John Suggett joined citizens to reorganize the Hatch Library as Cortland Free Library. The Library was chartered by New York State Department of Education on July 20, 1925. It sits on the site of the former county jail and courthouse. The library first served the city of Cortland and its charter now includes the towns of Cortlandville and Virgil.
Major facility expansions have occurred since the library opened in 1927: shelving for the glass mezzanine was purchased in the 1930's, a separate Youth Area opened in 1961, additional mezzanines were constructed in 1975 (North) and 1989 (South). A new roof was installed in 2008, an elevator addition was completed in June 2011, and the front entrance to the building was restored in 2012. The Youth Services area was renovated in 2013. The replacement of floor covering in the Main Reading Room and the renovation of basement areas for improved Information Technology services occured in early 2015. In 2016 the main reading room was repainted, with special attention given to the detail work. The lighting was also upgraded to LED and fixtures changed to historical chandeliers (two of the fixtures are original to the library, the others replicated to match). As with all historic structures maintaining the library building requires constant diligence and attention. In 2008 The Cortland Free Library was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Purchases of new books are paid by non-tax dollars: fines, donations and other contributions including library-benefit used book sales.
The Cortland Free Library, a member of the Finger Lakes Library System, houses about 70,000 volumes comprised of children's books, adult fiction and non-fiction books, nearly 300 periodicals, sixteen computer terminals with Internet access, over 1,000 DVDs and 1,300 audio books. Since the library is a member of the Finger Lakes Library System, there is access to more than 400,000 items and dozens of databases for health information, college choices, national newspapers, periodicals, references, encyclopedias, authors and other resources including Heritage Quest software, a genealogy program of the U.S. Census records. In microfilm format the library has the Cortland Standard since its inception in 1867 and several 19th century local papers.
The Adult Department offers two microfilm reader/printer machines, large print books, career resources, a local history collection, hundreds of magazines, current local newspapers and a comfortable reading area. Wi-fi is available in many areas of the library as well as quiet work spaces for individuals as well as small study groups. Individual tech help is available when scheduled. Visitors are assisted by knowledgeable, polite, friendly, cooperative staff.
Youth Services offers a weekly baby storytime on Tuesdays and a pre-school storytime on Thursdays, and several programs throughout the month for children of all ages. Youth Services was renovated in 2013 and is now open!
Books, audio books and magazines are loaned for 21 days, while DVDs, VHS tapes, and Wii Games may be borrowed for 7 days. Overdue fines for books and magazines accumulate at the rate of $0.10 per day to a maximum of $5.00 per item in both Adult and Youth Services. Overdue fines for DVDs, VHS tapes, audio books, and Wii Games accumulate at the rate of $1.00 per day to a maximum of $5.00 per item in both Adult and Youth Services.
There is a monthly listing of new books and programs in the Cortland Standard. The library also has a presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.