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Rosemary Jarrell, Customer Experience Manager-US West
This Thanksgiving, let’s take a moment to celebrate our public library system. The U.S. has come a long way for a country that’s only 239-years young!
Libraries Have Been Around for a Long Time
People started collecting book-like objects as soon as an alphabet was invented. Thousands of clay tablets, dating back to 2500 B.C., were unearthed in Sumer, now modern day Iraq. The Library of Alexandria, built in Egypt in the third century, housed thousands upon thousands of papyrus scrolls and was known world-wide as a great center of learning.
For the most part, throughout history, books were contained in private collections, their volumes and knowledge unavailable to the average man or woman. This is because books were expensive to produce and hard to come by. It wasn’t until the invention of moveable type by Gutenberg in 1452 that many copies of the same book could be mass produced.
Fun Facts about the First Libraries in the U.S.
- Parish (church) libraries were the first libraries established in the U.S. colonies
- Ben Franklin started the first subscription library in Philadelphia in 1731
- Peterborough, NH Town Library is the first public library supported solely by taxes, since 1833
- The first FREE children’s library was founded in Arlington, MA in 1835
- Harvard Library was established in 1638 after a bequest of 400 books by John Harvard
Services Libraries Provide
When I was a child, libraries were places where you went to borrow books, do research and attend local book club meetings. Today’s library does that, and so much more. Some of the services provided by public libraries include:
- Story hour and educational programs for children
- Employment services
- Computer centers and computer classes
- Literacy services
- Audiobooks, ebooks and music
How Many Libraries are in the US?
From the 2012 ALA Library Fact Sheet, there are over 16,000 library buildings in the United States. That’s a lot of libraries! However, there are approximately 35,000 cities and towns in the US. This means that half of all cities and towns don’t have access to the life-enhancing services our public libraries provide.
How Can We Support our Local Libraries?
- Donate Money
- Donate time and energy, lots of programs need volunteers
- Donate books or other materials
- Become a Friend of your local library
- Take advantage of the services they provide, in other words, USE your library
White, David. "Famous Libraries in History." Social Studies for Kids. 21 Jan. 2013: n.p. SIRS Discoverer. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
First library. (1957, Jun 16). Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960). Retrieved from ProQuest search.
Dawson, Robert. Public Library : A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson. New York, NY, USA: Princeton Architectural Press, 2014. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 17 November 2015.