Benjamin Franklin Opens First Library

November 8, 2021

On November 8, 1731, Benjamin Franklin opened the first library in the North American colonies. The Library Company of Philadelphia was the first circulating library in America. Before this, most Americans did not have access to books as they were expensive. Only the wealthy and members of the clergy had access.

On July 1, 1731, Benjamin Franklin came together with members of the Junto. They were a philosophical association. Junto came up with “Articles of Agreement” to form a library. Members of the Junto pooled their resources. Each member contributed 40 shillings towards the goal of starting a library.

They also invested an extra ten shillings per year towards maintaining and buying new books. The first librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia was Louis Timothee. Benjamin Franklin briefly served as a librarian. William Parsons succeeded him, and then Robert Greenway.

The oldest surviving catalog of the Library Company’s holdings dates back to 1741, printed by Benjamin Franklin. The Library Company of Philadelphia stocked most books written in English, unlike most other college and Church libraries that had most texts in Latin.

The Library stocked books on different subjects, such as history, science, poetry, exploration, and geography. Members could borrow books for free, while non-members had to give a surety to access the books. The Library opened on Saturday afternoons between 4-8 PM.

The Union Library, founded in 1746 in Philadelphia, would later merge with the Library Company in 1769. The Library Company of Philadelphia is now located at 1314 Locust Street.

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