Ben Franklin (January 17,1706) and the Public Library

How did the public library come to be?

Most Americans in the 1730s had limited access to books. They were rare and expensive and there were no public libraries. Only the very wealthy and the clergy had access to large numbers of books and Ben Franklin, being the pragmatist that he was, set to change that situation. Many people have said, including Ben Franklin:  if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”

On July 1, 1731, Franklin and a group of members from the Junto, a philosophical association, drew up “Articles of Agreement” to form a library. The Junto was interested in a wide range of ideas. Because they owned few tomes, they could not turn to books to increase their knowledge or settle disputes. Using the Junto’s combined purchasing power, they realized that books could be made available to all members.

So it was that 50 subscribers invested 40 shillings each to start a library. Members also promised to invest 10 shillings more every year to buy additional books and to help maintain the library. They chose as their motto a Latin phrase, which roughly translates as “To support the common good is divine.” Philip Syng, a silversmith who would one day create the inkstand with which the Declaration and Constitution were signed, designed the Company’s seal.

No surprise that Ben Franklin said: “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.”


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