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Librarians and patrons at a library in the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County system, a large urban public library.
Interior of a spacious room with lots of desks with lights and people studying
Panoramic view of the research room at the New York Public Library
Biblioteca Municipal de Guayaquil
Reading area in a Singapore public library

A public library (also called circulating library) is a library which is accessible by the public and is generally funded from public sources (such as tax money) and may be operated by civil servants. Taxing bodies for public libraries may be at any level from local to national central government level.

Public libraries exist in most nations of the world and are often considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population. Public libraries are distinct from research libraries, school libraries, or other special libraries in that their mandate is to serve the public's information needs generally (rather than serve a particular school, institution, or research population), as well as offering materials for general entertainment and leisure purposes. Public libraries typically are lending libraries, allowing users to take books and other materials off the premises temporarily; they also have non-circulating reference collections. Public libraries typically focus on popular materials such as popular fiction and movies, as well as educational and nonfiction materials of interest to the general public; computer and internet access are also often offered.


Services offered

In addition to print books and periodicals, most public libraries today have a wide array of other media including audio tapes, CDs, cassettes, videotapes, DVDs, and video games, as well as facilities to access the Internet and inter-library loans (borrowing items from other libraries). Readers' advisory is a fundamental public library service that involves suggesting fiction and nonfiction titles (often called "readalikes"). Public libraries may also provide other services, such as community meeting rooms, storytelling for infants, toddlers, and children, or after-school programs. In person and on-line programs for reader development, language learning, homework help, free lectures and cultural performances, and other community service programs are common offerings. One of the most popular programs offered in public libraries are summer reading programs for children, families, and adults. In rural areas, the local public library may have, in addition to its main branch, a mobile library service, consisting of one or more buses furnished as a small public library, serving the countryside according to a regular schedule.

Public libraries also provide materials for children that include books, periodicals, audio tapes, CDs, cassettes, videotapes, DVDs, video games and other materials (both fiction and nonfiction), often housed in a special section. Child oriented websites with on-line educational games and programs specifically designed for younger library users are becoming increasingly common. Public libraries may also provide services for other particular groups, such as large print or Braille materials, Books on tape, young adult literature and other materials for teenagers, or materials in other than the national language (in foreign languages).

Librarians at most public libraries provide reference and research help to the general public, usually at a reference desk but can often be done by telephone interview. As online discussion and social networking allow for remote access, reference is becoming available virtually through the use of the Internet and e-mail. Depending on the size of the library, there may be more than one desk; at some smaller libraries all transactions may occur at one desk, while large urban public libraries may employ subject-specialist librarians with the ability to staff multiple reference or information desks to answer queries about particular topics at any time during regular operating hours. Often the children's section in a public library has its own reference desk.

Public libraries in some countries pay authors when their books are borrowed from libraries. These are known as Public Lending Right programs.

Digital divide

Fort Worth Central Library Learning Commons
Fort Worth Central Library Computer Lab

As more commercial and governmental services are being provided online (e-commerce and e-government), public libraries increasingly provide Internet access for users who otherwise would not be able to connect to these services.

Part of the public library mission has become attempting to help bridge the digital divide. A study conducted in 2006 found that “72.5 percent of library branches report that they are the only provider of free public computer and Internet access in their communities” [1]. A 2008 study found that “100 percent of rural, high poverty outlets provide public Internet access, a significant increase from 85.7 percent last year”[2].

The American Library Association (ALA), addresses this role of libraries as part of “access to information” [3] and “equity of access,”[4]; part of the profession’s ethical commitment that “no one should be denied information because he or she cannot afford the cost of a book or periodical, have access to the internet or information in any of its various formats.”[5]

In addition to access, many of public libraries offer training and support to computer users. Once access has been achieved, there still remains a large gap in people’s online abilities and skills. For many communities, the public library is the only agency offering free computer classes and information technology learning. As of 2008, 73.4 percent of public libraries offered information technology training of some form, including information literacy skills and homework assignment help.[6] A significant service provided by public libraries is assisting people with e-government access and use of federal, state and local government information, forms and services.

Internationally, public libraries offer Information and communication technology (ICT) services, giving “access to information and knowledge” the “highest priority.” [7] While different countries and areas of the world have their own requirements, general services offered include free connection to the Internet, training in using the Internet, and relevant content in appropriate languages. In addition to typical public library financing, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and business fund services that assist public libraries in combating the digital divide.[8]

Origins as a social institution

The culmination of centuries of advances in the printing press, cast-iron type, paper, ink, publishing, and distribution, combined with an ever growing middle-class, increased commercial activity and consumption, new radical ideas, massive population growth and higher literacy rates forged the public library into the form that it is today. Public libraries are not a new idea; Romans made scrolls in dry rooms available to patrons of the baths, and tried with some success to establish libraries within the empire. Naturally only those few that could afford an education would be able to use the library, where those less than rich or without control of money, women, children and slaves of course could not. In the middle of the nineteenth century the push for truly public libraries, paid by taxes and run by the state gained force after numerous depressions, droughts, wars and revolutions in Europe, felt mostly by the working class. Matthew Battles states that:

"It was in these years of class conflict and economic terror that the public library movement swept through Britain, as the nation’s progressive elite recognized that the light of cultural and intellectual energy was lacking in the lives of commoners" [9].

Libraries had often been started with a donation, an endowment or were bequeathed to various, parishes, churches, schools or towns, and these social and institutional libraries formed the base of many academic and public library collections of today. Andrew Carnegie had the biggest influence in financing libraries in the United States of America, from the east to west coast. From just 1900 to 1917, almost 1,700 libraries were constructed by Carnegie’s foundation, insisting that local communities first guarantee tax support of each library built[10].

Branch library at Bankfield Museum

The establishment of circulating libraries by booksellers and publishers provided a means of gaining profit and creating social centers within the community. The circulating libraries not only provided a place to sell books, but also a place to lend books for a price. These circulating libraries provided a variety of materials including the increasingly popular novels. Although the circulating libraries filled an important role in society, members of the middle and upper classes often looked down upon these libraries that regularly sold material from their collections and provided materials that were less sophisticated. Circulating libraries also charged a subscription fee, however the fees were set to entice their patrons, providing subscriptions on a yearly, quarterly or monthly basis, without expecting the subscribers to purchase a share in the circulating library [11].

Circulating libraries were not exclusively lending institutions and often provided a place for other forms of commercial activity, which may or may not be related to print. This was necessary because the circulating libraries did not generate enough funds through subscription fees collected from its borrowers. As a commerce venture, it was important to consider the contributing factors such as other goods or services available to the subscribers[12].

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 add to the confusion.

The first libraries 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.

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 on site.

The later European university libraries were not open to the general public, but accessible by scholars.



United Kingdom

In the early years of the seventeenth century many famous collegiate and town libraries were founded throughout the country. Francis Trigge Chained Library of St. Wulfram's Church, Grantham, Lincolnshire was founded in 1598 by the rector of nearby Welbourne.[13] Norwich City library was established in 1608 [14] (six years after Thomas Bodley founded the Bodleian Library, which was open to the "whole republic of the learned"[citation needed] and 145 years before the foundation of the British Museum),[citation needed] and Chetham's Library in Manchester, which claims to be the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, opened in 1653.[15] Other early town libraries of the UK include those of Ipswich (1612), Bristol (founded in 1613 and opened in 1615), and Leicester (1632). Shrewsbury School also opened its library to townsfolk.[16]

In Bristol, an early library that allowed access to the public was that of the Kalendars or Kalendaries, a brotherhood of clergy and laity who were attached to the Church of All-Hallowen or All Saints. Records show that in 1464, provision was made for a library to be erected in the house of the Kalendars, and reference is made to a deed of that date by which it was "appointed that all who wish to enter for the sake of instruction shall have ‘free access and recess’ at certain times"[citation needed] .

At the turn of the 18th century, libraries were becoming increasingly public and were more frequently lending libraries. The 1700’s saw the switch from closed parochial libraries to lending libraries. Before this time, public libraries were parochial in nature and libraries frequently chained their books to desks. [17]. Libraries also were not uniformly open to the public. In 1790, The Public Library Act would not be passed for another sixty-seven years. [18] Even though the British Museum existed at this time and contained over 50,000 books, the National Library was not open to the public, or even to a majority of the population. Access to the Museum depended on passes, of which there was sometimes a waiting period of three to four weeks. Moreover, the Library was not open to browsing. Once one had been given a pass to the library, they were taken on a tour of the library. Many patrons complained that the tour was much too short. [19] At the turn of the century, there were virtually no public libraries in the sense in which we now understand the term i.e. libraries provided from public funds and freely accessible to all.” [20] Only one important library in Great Britain, namely Chetham’s Libarary in Manchester, was fully and freely accessible to the public.” [21] However, there had come into being a whole network of library provision on a private or institutional basis. Subscription libraries, both private and commercial, provided the middle and middle to upper class with a variety of books for a rather cheap price.

The increase in secular literature at this time encouraged the spread of lending libraries, especially the commercial subscription libraries. Commercial subscription libraries began when booksellers began renting out extra copies of books in the mid 1700’s. Steven Fischer estimates that in 1790, there were 'about six hundred rental and lending libraries, with a clientele of some fifty thousand. [22]The mid to late 18th century saw a virtual epidemic of feminine reading as novels became more and more popular. [23] Novels, while frowned upon in society, were terribly popular. In England there were many who lamented at the ‘villanous profane and obscene books’ and the opposition to the circulating library, on moral grounds, persisted well into the nineteenth century.” [24] Still, many establishments must have circulated many times the number of novels as of any other genre. [25] In 1797, Thomas Wilson wrote in The Use of Circulating LIbraries Consider, that for a successful circulating library, the collection must contain 70% fiction. However, the overall percentage of novels mainly depended on the proprietor of the circulating library. While some circulating libraries were almost completely novels, others had less than 10% of their overall collection in the form of novels. [26] The national average at the turn of the century hovered around novels comprising about 20% of the total collection. [27]Novels varied from other types of books in many ways. They were read primarily for enjoyment instead of for study. They did not provide academic knowledge or spiritual guidance; thus they were read quickly and far fewer times than other books. These were the perfect books for commercial subscription libraries to lend. Since books were read for pure enjoyment rather than for scholarly work, books needed to become both cheaper and smaller. Small duodecimo editions of books were preferred to the large folio editions. Folio editions were read at a desk, while the small duodecimo editions could be easily read like the paperbacks of today. Much like paperbacks of today, many of the novels in circulating libraries were unbound. At this period of time, many people chose to bind their books in leather. Many circulating libraries skipped this process. Circulating libraries were not in the business of preserving books; they wanted to lend books as many times as they possible could. Circulating libraries had ushered in a completely new way of reading. [28]. Reading was no longer simply an academic pursuit or an attempt to gain spiritual guidance. Reading became a social activity. Many circulating libraries were attached to the shops of milliners or drapers. They served as much for social gossip and the meeting of friends as coffee shops do today. [29]

Another factor in the growth of subscription libraries was the increasing cost of books. In the last two decades of the century, especially, prices were practically doubled, so that a quarto work cost a guinea, an octavo 10 shillings or 12 shillings, and a duodecimo cost 4 shillings per volume. Price apart, moreover, books were difficult to procure outside London, since local booksellers could not afford to carry large stocks. [30] Commercial libraries, since they were usually associated with booksellers, and also since they had a greater number of patrons, were able to accumulate greater numbers of books. The United Public Library was said to have a collection of some 52,000 volumes – twice as many as any private subscription library in the country at that period. [31]. These libraries, since they functioned as a business, also lent books to non-subscribers on a per-book system. [32]

Private subscription libraries functioned in much the same manner as commercial subscription libraries, though they varied in many important ways. One of the most popular versions of the private subscription library was a gentleman’s only library. The gentlemen’s subscription libraries, sometimes known as proprietary libraries, were nearly all organized on a common pattern. Membership was restricted to the proprietors or shareholders, and ranged from a dozen or two to between four and five hundred. The entrance fee, ie the purchase price of a share, was in early days usually a guinea, but rose sharply as the century advanced, often reaching four or five guineas during the French wars; the annual subscription, during the same period, rose from about six shillings to ten shillings or more. The book-stock was, by modern standards, small (Liverpool, with over 8,000 volumes in 1801, seems to have been the largest), and was accommodated, at the outset, in makeshift premises–very often over a bookshop, with the bookseller acting as librarian and receiving an honorarium for his pains. [33]. The Liverpool Subscription library was a gentlemen only library. In 1798, it was renamed the Athenaeum when it was rebuilt with a newsroom and coffeehouse. It had an entrance fee of one guinea and annual subscription of five shillings. [34] While no records survive of the commercial library lendings, we have the Bristol Library’s continuous record of borrowings ( in seventy-seven folio volumes) from 1773 to 1857. An analysis of the registers for the first twelve years provides some fascinating glimpses of middle-class reading habits in a mercantile community at this period. The largest and most popular sections of the library were History, Antiquities, and Geography, with 283 titles and 6,121 borrowings, and Belles Lettres, with 238 titles and 3,313 borrowings. Far below came Theology and Ecclesiastical History, Natural History and Chemistry, Philosophy, Jurisprudence, Miscellanies, Mathematics, etc., and Medicine and Anatomy, all with fewer than 100 titles.” [35]The most popular single work was John Hawkesworth’s Account of Voyages…in the Southern Hemisphere (3 vols) which was borrowed on 201 occasions. The records also show that in 1796, membership had risen by 1/3 to 198 subscribers (of whom 5 were women) and the titles increased five-fold to 4,987. This mirrors the increase in reading interests. A patron list from the Bath Municipal Library shows that from 1793 to 1799, the library held a stable 30% of their patrons as female. [36]

It was also uncommon for these libraries to have buildings designated solely as the library building during the 1790's, though in the 19th century, many libraries would begin building elaborate permanent residences. Bristol, Birmingham, and Liverpool were the few libraries with their own building. [37]The accommodations varied from the shelf for a few dozen volumes in the country stationer’s or draper’s shop, to the expansion to a back room, to the spacious elegant areas of Hookham’s or those at the resorts like Scarborough, and four in a row at Margate. [38]

Private subscription libraries held a greater amount of control over both membership and the types of books in the library. There was almost a complete elimination of cheap fiction in the private societies. [39] Subscription libraries prided themselves on respectability. The highest percentage of subscribers were often landed proprietors, gentry, and old professions [40]

Towards the end of the eighteenth century and in the first decades of the nineteenth the need for books and general education made itself felt among social classes created by the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. [41]The late 1700’s saw a rise in subscription libraries intended for the use of tradesman. In 1797 there was established at Kendal what was known as the Economical Library, ‘designed principally for the use and instruction of the working classes.’ [42]There was also the Artizans’ library established at Birmingham in 1799. The entrance fee was 3 shillings. The subscription was 1 shilling 6 pence per quarter. This was a library of general literature. Novels, at first excluded, were afterwards admitted on condition that they did not account for more than one-tenth of the annual income. [43]

Although by the mid-nineteenth century, England could claim 274 subscription libraries and Scotland, 266, the foundation of the modern public library system in the UK is the Public Libraries Act 1850. Prior to this, the municipalities of Warrington and Salford established libraries in their museums, under the terms of the Museums Act of 1845. Salford Museum and Art Gallery first opened in November 1850 as "The Royal Museum & Public Library", as the first unconditionally free public library in England.[44][45] The library in Campfield, Manchester was the first library to operate a free lending library without subscription in 1852.[46]. Norwich lays claims to being the first municipality to adopt the Public Libraries Act 1850 (which allowed any municipal borough with a population of 100,000 or more to introduce a halfpenny rate to establish public libraries - although not to buy books)[citation needed] , but theirs was the eleventh library to open, in 1857, being the eleventh in the country after Winchester, Manchester, Liverpool, Bolton, Kidderminster, Cambridge, Birkenhead and Sheffield[citation needed] . The Scottish-American philanthropist and businessman, Andrew Carnegie, helped to increase the number of public libraries from the late-nineteenth century[citation needed] .

United States

Bates Hall reading room in the Boston Public Library. Founded in 1848, it has 6.1 million books.[47]
A public library building in Altona, Illinois, a small village in the Midwestern United States.
The public library in Summit, New Jersey, a suburb of New York City.
The former Williams Free Library in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin features an architectural style called Richardsonian Romanesque.

As the United States developed from the 1700s to today, growing more populous and wealthier, factors such as a push for education and desire to share knowledge led to broad public support for free libraries. In addition, money donations by private philanthropists provided the seed capital to get many libraries started. In some instances, collectors donated vast book collections. Most public libraries today are supported by tax monies from local and state governments, and some have foundations to support them with additional capital. Libraries lend books and materials freely, but charge fines if materials are returned late or damaged. Libraries often keep many historical documents relevant to their particular town, and serve as a resource for historians in some instances; for example, the Queens Public Library kept letters written by unrecognized Tiffany lamp designer Clara Driscoll, and the letters remained in the library until a curator discovered them.[48]

William James Sidis in The Tribes and the States claimed the public library, as such, was an American invention.[49] But exactly what constitutes a "free public library" is subject to dispute, and the term "invention" doesn't seem applicable to the many facets of an institution such as a library. Throughout history, knowledge in different forms has been shared in different ways. Writing was recorded on papyrus and stored in scrolls and kept in vast libraries such as the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. In ancient Greece, knowledge was passed by one person reading aloud to a group of scribes from a text; this resulted in sometimes different and error-prone versions of the same text. Monks in the Middle Ages copied manuscripts by hand. After the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg, books became prevalent, and different institutions such as universities and governments and churches found ways to keep and share them.

There are disputes about which was the first public library in the nation. Early American cities such as Boston and Philadelphia and New York had the first organized collections of books, but which library was truly "public" is subject to dispute. Sidis claims the first public library was Boston's in 1636,[49] although the official Boston Public Library was organized later in 1852.[50] In 1698, Charleston's St. Philip's Church Pasonage had a provincial library. In 1731, Benjamin Franklin and his friends, sometimes called "the Junto", operated the Library Company of Philadelphia partly as a means to settle arguments and partly as a means to advance themselves through sharing information. Franklin's subscription library allowed members to buy "shares" and combined funds were used to buy more books; in return, members could borrow books and use the library. Today, the Library Company continues to exist as a nonprofit, independent research library.

A town in Massachusetts wanted to name itself Franklin in honor of the famous Pennsylvanian, and in return, Benjamin Franklin donated books for use by local residents; while Franklin had been asked to donate a church bell instead, he declined on the basis that "sense" was preferable to "sound."[51] One source considers the Franklin library in Massachusetts to be the first public library in the United States.[51] Another source claims the library in Darby, Pennsylvania which opened in 1743 is the "oldest continuously operating free public library" in the United States.[52] But other libraries claim to be the first public library, including the Scoville library in Salisbury, Connecticut, which was established in 1803.[53] The library in the New Hampshire town of Peterborough claims to be the first publicly-funded library; it opened in 1833.[54] And a library in Massachusetts in the town of Arlington claims to have had the first free children's library; it opened in 1835.[55]

In the trend from private to public libraries, big city libraries had the largest book collections and the most funding. The forerunner of the New York Public Library in Manhattan was a library established by the Earl of Ballamont around 1700.[56] A newspaper described the call for the "first public librarian" demanding that "he must not be too young, for this would render him liable to be despised by the youth" and "he must be of an even temper" with "great diligence" and "sufficient learning" and "have a genius peculiarly adapted to the calling."[56] In 1849, the library was officially established, and consolidated in 1901. Today, it is considered to be one of the most important public libraries in the nation.[57] New York governor and book lover Samuel J. Tilden bequeathed millions to build the New York Public Library. He believed Americans should have access to books and a free education if desired. In 2005, the library offered the "NYPL Digital Gallery" which made a collection of 275,000 images viewable over the web; while most of the contents are in the public domain, some images are still subject to copyright rules.[58] In 1902, one account suggested "the village library is growing more and more an indispensable adjunct to American village life."[59]

Around the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, Scottish-American businessman Andrew Carnegie donated over $60 million, which was a vast fortune in 1900s dollars, to build over 2,811 free public library buildings in the United States.[60] They were often known as Carnegie libraries.[60] Carnegie envisioned that libraries would "bring books and information to all people."[61] Libraries have been started with wills from other benefactors; for example, the Bacon Free Library in South Natick, Massachusetts was founded in 1881 after a benefactor left $15,000 in a will; it has operated as a public library since then.[62] Some library buildings are notable for their particular architectural styles; in the town of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, architects designed the Williams Free Library in the style of Richardsonian Romanesque.

In 2009, with the economic downturn, many public libraries have budget shortfalls. The library in Darby, Pennsylvania found expenses were greater than revenues from local property taxes, state funds, and investment income; it was on the risk of closing, according to a newspaper report.[52] Many public libraries face budgetary problems; the report noted that "tax dollars that support them are dwindling as property tax revenue declines along with home values and sales taxes fall as consumers spend less. As local funding drops, libraries are turning to their endowments and draining the investments."[52] Many libraries have foundations behind them to support them financially, and rely on the help of well-heeled donors as well as local corporations for funds.[63]

In 2009, big city libraries have multiple branches and offer numerous services. For example, the Boston Public Library has 26 neighborhood branches and offers free Internet service; it has two restaurants and an online store which features reproductions of photographs and artwork; and it promotes itself with a website.[47] It answers more than one million reference questions annually.[47] The library uses wireless technology software networks to offer more services and keep costs under control.[47] The Boston library offers digitized content, video, a wider range of formats and, as a result, "research documents now have broader accessibility within the community and around the world," and help communities by offering public access computers, mobile Wi-fi access, and free job search tools.[47]

Libraries promote cultural awareness; in Newark, New Jersey, the public library celebrated black history with exhibits and programs.[64] Libraries also partner with schools and community organizations to promote literacy and learning.[61] One account suggested libraries were essential to "economic competitiveness" as well as "neighborhood vitality" and help some people find jobs.[61]


In 1747, construction began on one of Poland's first, at the time one of the world's best national public libraries named the Załuski Library in Warsaw.[65] In 1794, the library was looted on orders from Catherine II of Russia[citation needed]. Much of the material was returned in the period of 1842-1920, but once again the library was decimated during World War II during the period following the Warsaw Uprising. The Załuski Library was succeeded by the creation of the National Library of Poland (Biblioteka Narodowa) in 1928.


The Quebec Library, founded in Quebec City in 1779 by Governor Frederick Haldimand, was the first publicly-funded library in the country. It later merged with the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which displays the original Quebec Library collection within its library. The first public library opened in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1883, following the efforts of Colonel James Domville in procuring a collection of materials to replace the many private collections lost in the Great Fire of Saint John, New Brunswick. The second public library in Canada opened in Toronto, Ontario, after a campaign by city alderman John Hallam. James Bain became the first chief librarian, and built a comprehensive collection of Canadian literature and history. Many of the original branches, funded by a Carnegie grant, still stand and continue to be operated by the Toronto Public Library.[66] Public libraries in Canada are not only places to read and borrow books. They are also hubs of community services, such as early reading programs, computer access, and tutoring and literacy help for children and adults.[67][68]


Library services in Australia developed along very different paths in the different States, as such it is hard to define the origins of the Public Library system in Australia. In 1809 the Reverend Samuel Marsden advertised in England for donations to help found a 'Lending Library for the general benefit of the inhabitants of New South Wales'. The library would cover 'Divinity and Morals, History, Voyages and Travels, Agriculture in all its branches, Mineralogy and Practical Mechanics'. No Public Library came to fruition from this although some of the books brought to the colony after this call survive in the library of Moore Theological College.

The place of Public Libraries was filled by; Mechanics' Institutes, schools of arts, athenaeums and literary institutes. Some of which provided free library services to visitors, however lending rights were available only to members who were required to pay a subscription.

In 1856, the Victorian colonial government opened the Melbourne Public Library (now the State Library of Victoria). This was however purely a reference library.

In September 1869, the New South Wales government opened as the Free Public Library, Sydney (Now the State Library of New South Wales) by purchasing a bankrupt subscription library.

In 1896, the Brisbane Public Library was established. The Library's collection, purchased by the Queensland Government from the private collection of Mr Justice Harding.

In 1932, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, funded a survey (The Munn-Pitt Report) into Australian libraries. It found 'wretched little institutes' which were 'cemeteries of old and forgotten books'. There was also criticism of the limited public access, poor staff training, unsatisfactory collections, lack of non-fiction, absence of catalogues and poor levels of service for children. Lending libraries in Sydney (NSW) and Prahran (Victoria) were praised as examples of services which were doing well, but these were seen as exceptions.

In NSW, The Free Library Movement was set up on the back of the Munn-Pitt Report. This collection of (amongst others) concerned citizens, progress associations, Returned Servicemen and trade Unions advocated for a system of Public Libraries to serve the needs of all people. This movement was stalled by the declaration of war in 1939.

The passing of Library Acts in the states at the end of the war marked the beginning of modern public libraries in Australia.

In 1943, the Queensland Parliament passed the Libraries Act, establishing the Library Board of Queensland to manage the operations of the Public Library of Queensland, and coordinate and improve library facilities throughout the State of Queensland.

In November 1943, at the official opening of the new Public Library of New South Wales building, William McKell, the New South Wales Premier, announced that the Library Act would be fully proclaimed from 1 January 1944.

Even after the war, the development of free lending libraries in Australia had been agonizingly slow: it was not until the 1960s that local governments began to establish public libraries in suburban areas.


In 1646 Don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, bishop of Puebla and Viceroy of New Spain, expelled the Jesuits from New Spain, and with the confiscated books founded the "Biblioteca Palafoxiana"–the first public library in New Spain. It was open to all readers.

The Palafoxiana library exists today and is the only library in the world with the UNESCO Memory of the World certification. It has some of the oldest books in both North and South America.[69]

Funding problems

Calling funding issues a problem is understating the issue in that most public libraries rely heavily on local government funding. Some proactive librarians have devised alliances with patron and civic groups to supplement their financial situations. Library "friends" groups, activist boards, and well organized book sales supplement government funding. With the cost of running local government increasing at a rate far above inflation[citation needed], libraries are compelled to look beyond the tax base of the communities they serve.

In the United States, among other countries, libraries in financially-strapped communities compete financially with other public institutions, such as police, firefighters, and schools.

Many communities are closing down or reducing the capability of their library systems, at the same time balancing their budgets. Jackson County, Oregon (US), closed its entire 15-branch library system for six months in 2007, reopening with a reduced schedule. This example of a funding problem followed the failure to pass of a bond measure and cessation of federal funding for counties with dwindling timber revenue, in a state with no sales tax.[70][71] In December 2004, Salinas, California almost became the first city in the United States to completely close down its entire library system. A tax increase passed by the voters in November 2005 allowed the libraries to open, but hours remain limited.[72] The American Library Association says media reports it has compiled in 2004 showed some $162 million in funding cuts to libraries nationwide.[73].

Survey data suggests the public values free public libraries. A Public Agenda survey in 2006 reported 84 percent of the public said maintaining free library services should be a top priority for their local library. Public libraries received higher ratings for effectiveness than other local services such as parks and police. But the survey also found the public was mostly unaware of financial difficulties facing their libraries.[74]

Recently, many US cities including: Philadelphia, New York, Trenton and San Diego have been facing the issue of making job cuts and service reductions in order to save money. Most of these cities have decided to cut library funding by closing down several branches and cutting hours and staff members in the branches that will remain open. Philadelphia, however, has decided to keep their 54 branches open. In order to save money during this financial crisis, Mayor Michael Nutter has proposed to cut funding for recreational parks and decrease the budget for police and fire services. Nutter has announced that the Philadelphia public library branches will not be affected by the budget cuts at this time.

In various cost-benefit studies libraries continue to provide an exceptional return on the dollar.[75] A 2008 survey discusses comprehensively the prospects for increased funding in the United States, saying in conclusion "There is sufficient, but latent, support for increased library funding among the voting population." [76]

See also


  1. ^ Bertot, J.C., Jaeger, P.T., Langa, L.A. and McClure, C.R. (2006). “Public access computing and Internet access in public libraries: The role of public libraries in e-government and emergency situations.” First Monday. 11(9)Retrieved May 30, 2009, from
  2. ^ Bertot, J.C., McClure, C.R., Jaeger, P.T. and Ryan, J. (2008). Public libraries and the Internet 2008: Study results and findings. Retrieved May 31, 2009 from Florida State University, Information Use Management and Policy Institute Website:
  3. ^ American Library Association (ALA) Access to Information. Retrieved July 16, 2009, from
  4. ^ American Library Association (ALA). Equity of Access. Retrieved July 16, 2009, from
  5. ^ American Library Association (ALA). Access. Retrieved July 16, 2009, from
  6. ^ Bertot, J.C., McClure, C.R., Jaeger, P.T. and Ryan, J. (2008). Public libraries and the Internet 2008: Study results and findings. Retrieved May 31, 2009 from Florida State University, Information Use Management and Policy Institute Website:
  7. ^ Haavisto, T. (2006). Libraries and the WSIS action lines: Guideline for international, regional and local advocacy for libraries in relation with implantation of the WSIS by action line 2005-2015. [Update. Mincio, D. (2007)] [Electronic Version]. Page 2. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and World Summit on the Information Society: Geneva 2003 – Tunis 2005. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from
  8. ^ Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2009). Global Libraries: Opening a World of Information and Opportunities. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from
  9. ^ Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History. New York, N.Y.: Norton, 2004, p. 135.
  10. ^ Bill, Katz. Dahl’s History Of The Book, No. 2. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1995, p. 238.
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^ Raven, James. "Libraries for sociability: the advance of subscription library." The Cambridge History Of Libraries In Britain And Ireland. 3 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 251-253.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Anon. "Norwich City Library 1608 - 1737: The Minutes, Donation Book and Catalogue of Norwich City Library, Founded in 1608". Norfolk Record Society. Norfolk Record Society. Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  15. ^ Anon. "Welcome to Chetham's Library". Chetham' Library Home page. Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  16. ^ Hobson, Anthony "Open Shelves", TLS, 8 December 2006, 9.
  17. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 94. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  18. ^ Predeek, Albert. A History of Libraries in Great Britain and North America. Page 58 . American Library Association. 1947. Print.
  19. ^ Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History. Page 121. 2003. Print.
  20. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 185. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  21. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 185 . The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  22. ^ Allen, David. A Nation of Readers: The Lending Library in Georgian England. Page 121. British Library. 2008. Print.
  23. ^ Irwin, Raymond. The Heritage of the English Library. Page 275 . George Allen & Unwin. 1964. Print.
  24. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 147. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  25. ^ Kaufman, Paul. Libraries and Their Users. Page 197 . The Library Association. 1969. Print.
  26. ^ Allen, David. A Nation of Readers: The Lending Library in Georgian England. Page 138. British Library. 2008. Print.
  27. ^ Allen, David. A Nation of Readers: The Lending Library in Georgian England. Page 135. British Library. 2008. Print.
  28. ^ Irwin, Raymond. The Heritage of the English Library. Page 276 . George Allen & Unwin. 1964. Print.
  29. ^ Irwin, Raymond. The Heritage of the English Library. Page 275 . George Allen & Unwin. 1964. Print.
  30. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 121. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  31. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 188. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  32. ^ Allen, David. A Nation of Readers: The Lending Library in Georgian England. Page 132. British Library. 2008. Print.
  33. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 128. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  34. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 126. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  35. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 133. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  36. ^ Kaufman, Paul. Libraries and Their Users. Page 29. The Library Association. 1969. Print.
  37. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 129. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  38. ^ Kaufman, Paul. Libraries and Their Users. Page 193. The Library Association. 1969. Print.
  39. ^ Libraries and Their Users. Page 209. The Library Association. 1969. Print.
  40. ^ Allen, David. A Nation of Readers: The Lending Library in Georgian England. Page 68. British Library. 2008. Print.
  41. ^ Irwin, Raymond. The Heritage of the English Library. Page 53. George Allen & Unwin. 1964. Print.
  42. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 127. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  43. ^ Kelly, Thomas. Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain before 1850. Page 128. The Library Association. 1966. Print.
  44. ^ manchesteronline: Eye witness in Manchester Retrieved on 2008-09-05
  45. ^ 1st In Salford,,, retrieved 2008-01-19 
  46. ^
  47. ^ a b c d e Business Wire (September 9, 2009). "Boston Public Library Secures E-Rate Funding; Selects One Communications for 31 Location MPLS Network". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-11-18. ""The Internet and emerging technologies have had a substantial impact on libraries," said Mary Bender, Communications Manager at Boston Public Library. "Content has been digitized and is available in a wider range of formats including video, and resources such as rare books, photos, and research documents now have broader accessibility within the community and around the world."" 
  48. ^ JEFFREY KASTNER (February 25, 2007). "Out of Tiffany’s Shadow, a Woman of Light". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-16. "He was co-curator of the exhibition with the independent scholar ... and the historical society’s curator of decorative arts, Margaret K. Hofer." 
  49. ^ a b
  50. ^
  51. ^ a b
  52. ^ a b c Marisol Bello (2009-02-02). "Country's oldest public library could close this year". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-11-18. "Now Darby's only library, believed to be the country's oldest continuously operating free public library, may close its doors and end its time as a gathering" 
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^ a b "New York's First Public Library Would Seem Queer Now". New York Times. May 8, 1904. Retrieved 2009-11-18. "THERE was no doubt whatever in the mind of the man who laid the foundation for the first free public library in New York, away back in 1711, as to the sort of person he wanted for librarian. He put his ideas in writing. His original manuscript is in the library of Lambeth Palace, London." 
  57. ^
  58. ^ Jim Regan (March 21, 2005). "The NY Public Library's Digital Gallery". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2009-11-18. "Officially launched on March 3rd, the NYPL DIgital Gallery is presently offering 275,000 images (stored on a 57- terabyte, a thousand billion bytes of data, network of servers) for public perusal and free personal use ("...individual private study, scholarship and research...")" 
  59. ^ E. IRENAEUS STEVENSON (August 16, 1902). "Village Libraries: Mr. E. Irenaeus Stevenson Offers Suggestions on How to Conduct Them.". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-18. "The village library is growing more and more an indispensable adjunct to American village life." 
  60. ^ a b "Obituary–Carnegie Started as a Bobbin Boy". New York Times. August 12, 1919. Retrieved 2009-11-18. "Free Public Library buildings (2,811) $60,364,808.75" 
  61. ^ a b c "Sunday Forum: The importance of libraries". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. January 13, 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-18. "You'll find librarians guiding customers to information that will help them to find a job, start a business or trace their family trees. You'll find teens learning to use video cameras and online media to support a worthy cause. You'll find children settling into a cozy pillow with a picture book." 
  62. ^ Bacon Free Library
  63. ^ Agustin C. Torres (August 12, 2009). "Jersey City Free Public Library's party a total success". The Jersey Journal. Retrieved 2009-11-18. "Last, but certainly not least, on behalf of the Library Board of Trustees and Library Director Priscilla Gardner, we thank the Provident Bank Foundation for donating $15,000 to the Library Foundation, which signifies and continually solidifies the long history between the Provident Bank and the Jersey City Free Public Library." 
  64. ^ Dennis Papp (January 15, 2009). "Library celebrates Black History 2009". Newark Star-Ledger & Retrieved 2009-11-18. "The Library salutes the lives and legacy of the black doctors and nurses whose pioneering work in the greater metropolitan area opened the doors of the health services industry to the city's African- American population as both consumers and providers." 
  65. ^ The Strange Life of One of the Greatest European Libraries of the Eighteenth Century: the Zaluski Collection in Warsaw
  66. ^
  67. ^
  68. ^
  69. ^
  70. ^ Mail Tribune - NOW WHAT? - April 8, 2007
  71. ^ Open, for now
  72. ^ "Referenda Roundup, 2005" American Library Association, 2005. (Accessed 10 July, 2006).
  73. ^ "Library Funding" American Library Association, 2004. (Accessed 10 July, 2006)
  74. ^ "Long Overdue: A Fresh Look at Public Attitudes About Libraries in the 21st Century" Public Agenda, 2006. (Accessed 25 July, 2008).
  75. ^ Holt, Glen. Measuring Outcomes: Applying Cost-Benefit Analysis to Middle-Sized and Smaller Public Libraries. Library Trends; Winter2003, Vol. 51 Issue 3, p424, 17p
  76. ^ From Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America. A Report to the OCLC Membership OCLC, 2008 ISBN 1-55653-400-0 full text

Further reading

  • Barnett, Graham Keith (1987) Histoire des bibliothèques publiques en France de la Révolution à 1939; traduit de l'anglais par Thierry Lefèvre et Yves Sardat. Paris: Promodis (Translation of: The history of public libraries in France from the Revolution to 1939, London: Library Association, 1973)
  • Bobinski, George S. (1969) Carnegie Libraries: their history and impact on American public library development. Chicago: American Library Association ISBN 0838900224
  • Garrison, Dee (1979) Apostles of Culture: the public librarian and American society, 1876-1920. New York: Free Press ISBN 0026938502
  • Jones, Barbara M., "Libraries, Access, and Intellectual Freedom", American Library Association, 1999.
  • Kelly, Thomas (1966) Early Public Libraries: a history of public libraries in Great Britain before 1850. London: Library Association
  • Minow, Mary; Lipinski, Tomas A., "The Library's Legal Answer Book", American Library Association, 2003.
  • Stockham, K. A., ed. (1969) British County Libraries: 1919-1969. London: André Deutsch ISBN 0233961119

External links


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