July 28, 2004

first public library, yes or no?

You've likely seen those posters in the T if you're at the DNC saying that Boston is first in this, first in that, and had the first public library. I'd always thought the first public library was in New Hampshire. Leave it to another librarian to figure out the truth or at least cite some good sources.
BPL's President, Dr. Bernard Margolis, was gracious enough to send me a quick e-mail in which he upheld Boston's claims, but also acknowledged the "semantic issues" and long-standing "jockeying with Peterboro" that is involved as well. Margolis mentioned that Bostonians, not BPL as a modern institution, notes a “continuous line of service” that goes back to 1657, when Captain Robert Keayne’s left money in his will for a library. Some public monies were voted for the upkeep of this building, which housed State records, but it burnt to the ground in 1711.
Posted by jessamyn at July 28, 2004 07:30 PM

Nice to see a little interest in public library history. Regardless of the semantics, the establishment of the Boston Public Library was a pivotal point in public library history. A culmination of many decades of development of libraries that weren't for the use and enjoyment of a single individual or family. For my tribute to the Boston Public Library, go to:


Posted by: Larry T. Nix at July 29, 2004 10:07 AM

I dunno...1657 does come before 1833.

Posted by: B.G. Johnson at July 29, 2004 10:11 AM

By the way, here's a reference for those interested: Shera, J. H. (1965). "Foundations of the public library: The origins of the public library movement in New England 1629-1855". North Haven, CT: Shoe String Press. 

Posted by: B.G. Johnson at July 29, 2004 10:18 AM

I always rankle when people don't trace public libraries further in history. They've existed since at least Classical times. There are well documented Greek, Roman, and Egyptian public libraries. I can only imagine that there were counterparts in Asia and elsewhere.

Posted by: Brooke at July 29, 2004 10:18 AM

I hope to see the bloggers out there (at BOTH conventions) paying attention to the topics that get ignored by the newshandlers and arrangement specialists, out of a pathetic and trembling fear that something unscripted might happen.
-Orange Mike

-- Rev. Librarians Redux
-- library signs: PATRIOT
-- library signs: CIPA

DNC 7/26-29
26jul... blogger b'fast
27jul... bazaar
28jul... bash?
29jul... voter reg

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