The Gay Head Public Library (renamed the Aquinnah Public Library in 1998) was established in 1901 by an act of the State legislature in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At the time of its establishment, the legislature also appropriated funds for the purchase of a small collection. Prior to that time the town school was the sole repository of publicly owned volumes. From its inception, the new library found itself competing for space with all the other public needs of the town. The schoolhouse was the only public building in existence until the Town Hall was constructed in 1929. Books purchased with that first entitlement and those brought in later years were kept in the schoolhouse and were later moved across the street to a room next to the stage in the new Town Hall.
Around 1950, the collection, which had grown to nearly 3,000 books, was moved back to the small rear "furnace" room of the schoolhouse which had expanded slightly to accommodate its new use. In 1956 and 1957, however, the school needed the extra room and the library was forced to close while a new home was created for it. In 1958, a crew of volunteers brought the library collection to a cellar area under the west side of the Town Hall which they excavated manually and which was then finished and made habitable by Herbert Hancock, a local contractor.
It was not until 10 years later that new office space was constructed in the Town Hall for those officials and the library collection found its way back to the schoolhouse where it remains today. Except for the addition of modern plumbing, the removal of a bell tower, and a progression of heating systems, the building has remained much as it was originally conceived. It is currently the centerpiece to the historic town center district that is listed in the National Historic Register. The small one-room schoolhouse was constructed in the mid-eighteenth century on Old South Road in what was then the center of town.
From earliest times, the Gay Head schoolhouse/library has been a meeting place for townspeople (regulated only by a sometimes inadequate supply of coal for the stove) and has always played a central role in the social and emotional fabric of the community.The Friends of the Aquinnah Public Library (FAPL), comprised of both seasonal and year-round residents plays an active role in its development. Inter library loans and on-line access to certain Boston Public library collections are available and the library is poised for on-line circulation with the adjoining towns of Chilmark and West Tisbury. Despite all modern conveniences, the small schoolhouse is still a warm and inviting place for book lovers to leisurely browse the stacks.