Public library

From Academic Kids

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Librarians and patrons in a typical larger urban public library

A public library is a library which is accessible by the public and is often operated by civil servants and funded from public sources.

Public libraries exist in most nations of the world and are considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population. American businessman Andrew Carnegie donated the money for the building of thousands of Carnegie libraries in English-speaking countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In addition to books and periodicals, most public libraries today have a wide array of other media including CDs, software, video tapes, and DVDs, as well as facilities to access the Internet.

Many public libraries around the world pay authors for having books in libraries. These are known as Public Lending Right programs.


Origins of the public library as a social institution

The origins of the public library as a social institution have not been well explored or recorded. Many claims have been made for the title of "first public library" for various libraries in various countries, with at least some of the confusion arising from differing interpretations of what should be considered a true "public library". Difficulties in establishing what policies were in effect at different times in the history of particular libraries also adds to the confusion.

The first libraries to be open to the public were the collections of Greek and Latin scrolls which were available in the dry sections of the many buildings that made up the huge Roman baths of the Roman empire. However, they were not lending libraries, with a few exceptions only. The "halls of science" run by different Islamic sects in many cities of North Africa and the Middle East in the 9th century were open to the public. Some of them had written lending policies, but they were very restrictive. Most patrons were expected to consult the books in situ.

A selection of significant claims made for early libraries operating in a way at least partly analogous to the modern public library is listed below by country and then date order.

United States of America

  • In his unconventional history The Tribes and the States William James Sidis claims the public library as an American invention and states that the first town library was established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1636.
  • The St. Phillips Church Parsonage Provincial Library, established in 1698 in Charleston, South Carolina
  • The Library Company of Philadelphia was founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin and a group of his friends (the Junto) as a means to settle arguments. The subscription library was born. A subscription library allowed inviduals to buy "shares." The money raised from the sell of shares went into buying more books. A member or shareholder then had rights to use the library. The Library Company, which may have been the first truly public library (members could actually borrow books), is still in existence as a nonprofit, independent research library. [1] (
  • A library founded in 1833 in Peterborough, New Hampshire [2] (
  • The Boston Public Library [3] (
  • The Franklin, Massachusetts public library [4] (

United Kingdom

  • Chetham's Library ( in Manchester was founded in 1653 and claims to be "the oldest public library in the English-speaking world". It is unclear, however, whether the library was public from its inception date.
  • St. Mary's Church, Reigate, Surrey opened on March 14, 1701

See also: Public space, List of libraries

External links

ja:公共図書館 sv:Folkbibliotek


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