The best place the Morris flock had to find a good story was the library, either Mom’s upstairs or at the Public Library in the Park. If we had been born 200 years earlier, our story would have been much different. In the 1700s, educational opportunities for females were few to none. Unless a family was wealthy or clergy, book ownership was limited to the family bible and perhaps a few other volumes. And there were no public libraries. Women who wished to further their learning (usually the wealthy) would meet together to read and discuss books. Literary salons then, were not only a precursor to today’s public libraries, but also book clubs and literary societies. Rich men at the same time had subscription clubs. For a monthly fee, a man could borrow a book to read for a while. The fee would buy more books and a place to put them. Closer, but still no Library in the Park.
this photo and the next credit: https://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/history-us-public-libraries/beginnings
Benjamin Franklin, United States of America inventor, statesman, ambassador, printer, “Founding Father”, and all around brilliant guy, had a large part in setting up Public Libraries in the USA. In 1731, he founded the first subscription club in the colonies. He was a member of a group, mostly merchants, who met to discuss, as he described in his autobiography, “queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy.” They owned some books and were looking for a way to get more. So, Franklin used subscription money and a forty-shilling investment from each of the first fifty members to order more books from England. The next time you think your order from Amazon is taking its sweet time, remember it took anywhere from 47 to 138 days for a ship to cross the Atlantic, if it made it at all.
The greater part of the first books were about education and religion. As the collection grew, more topics were added. Members of the club had free use of the books. A non-member could borrow, if he gave some sort of collateral.
Ray Memorial Library in Franklin Massachusetts
Then, in 1790, the town of Franklin Massachusetts (named for him) asked Franklin to donate a bell as a memorial. He decided that sense was more important than sound and donated a collection of books. The town voted to have the books available to all town members, thus starting the first Public Library.
As recorded in A History of US Public Libraries, https://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/history-us-public-libraries/beginnings: “The first totally tax-supported library was established in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in 1833. While there were many other libraries that met new public-oriented milestones—like the Darby Free Library in Pennsylvania, which has been in continuous service since 1793—the first large public library was the Boston Public Library, founded in 1848. Boston Public Library opened in 1854 and all Massachusetts residents could borrow from its collection, which began with 16,000 volumes.”
It took until after the Civil War before board-governed and tax-funded lending libraries became commonplace in American towns and cities. Now, Public Libraries have expanded their collections to audio books, movies and e-books all for free. (Unless one decides to never take the thing back and let fines grow higher than any bookstore price. Seriously now who would do that?!?) Plus, most systems have an inter-library loan of some sort so if your neighborhood library doesn’t have the book you want, the one down the street does! Public Libraries, brick and mortar or www., are still the best place to find a story.