First Tax-Supported Public Library

Today in 1833, the Peterborough Town Library in New Hampshire was established by the Peterborough Town Meeting. It was the first public library in the world supported by taxation. In 1849, New Hampshire was the first state to pass a law permitting towns to appropriate money for the purchase of books and the maintenance of a building for the use of the public. 

In 1837, the Town Meeting of West Cambridge, Massachusetts (today’s Arlington), voted an annual appropriation of $30 for its library. The trustees immediately voted to open the library for the use of all residents.  The library’s Web site recounts its history up to that date:

“In 1807, soon after the town was incorporated as West Cambridge, the private West Cambridge Social Library was organized. This library was still in existence in 1835 when Dr. Ebenezer Learned, a physician in Hopkington, N.H. left $100 in his will to establish a juvenile library in West Cambridge. As a young man, Dr. Learned had taught in town and remembered his years here as some of the most pleasant in his life.

This bequest was used to purchase a number of books from Little, Brown and Company which according to legend were then brought to town in a wheelbarrow by the newly appointed librarian, Mr. Jonathan Dexter. The town can be proud that this was the first free continuous children’s library in the nation.”

Update:  Good Magazine posted today on how the people of Shutesbury, Massachusetts, use the online world to raise funds for their new library building:

An incredibly cute YouTube video by filmmaker Lindsay Van Dyke recruited local people to demonstrate their love of their library. The short gets to the essence of what makes libraries so important: having a haven for ideas, inspiration, and creativity. The video’s gotten 35,000 hits in a little more than a month, inspiring nearly $40,000 in donations from donors across the country as well as Singapore, Australia, Canada, Kenya, and Europe.

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