The Boston Public Library (est.1848) is a municipal public library system in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States, the first large library open to the public in the United States, and the first public library to allow people to borrow books and other materials and take them home to read and use. The Boston Public Library is also the library of last recourse of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; all adult residents of the state are entitled to borrowing and research privileges, and the library receives state funding. According to its website, the Boston Public Library contains 8.9 million books and A/V (approximately 22 million items encompassing all formats), making it one of the largest public libraries in the nation.

According to its website, the collection of the Boston Public Library has grown to 6.1 million books, which makes it one of the largest municipal public library systems in the United States. According to the American Library Association, the circulation of the BPL is 15,458,022 which also makes it one of the busiest public library systems in the nation. Because of the strength and importance of its research collection, the Boston Public Library is a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a not-for-profit organization comprising the research libraries of North America. The New York Public Library is the only other public library that is a member of the ARL. The library has special strengths in art and art history (available on the third floor of the McKim building) and American history (including significant research material), and maintains a depository of government documents. Included in the BPL's research collection are more than 1.7 million rare books and manuscripts. It possesses wide-ranging and important holdings, including medieval manuscripts and incunabula, early editions of William Shakespeare (among which are a number of Shakespeare quartos and the First Folio), the George Ticknor collection of Spanish literature, a major collection of Daniel Defoe, records of colonial Boston, the 3,800 volume personal library of John Adams, the mathematical and astronomical library of Nathaniel Bowditch, important manuscript archives on abolitionism, including the papers of William Lloyd Garrison, and a major collection of materials on the Sacco and Vanzetti case. There are large collections of prints, photographs, postcards, and maps. The library, for example, holds one of the major collections of watercolors and drawings by Thomas Rowlandson. The library has a special strength in music, and holds the archives of the Handel and Haydn Society, scores from the estate of Serge Koussevitzky, and the papers of the important American composer Walter Piston. For all these reasons, the historian David McCullough has described the Boston Public Library as one of the five most important libraries in America, the others being the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the university libraries of Harvard and Yale. As of 2006, the Library has had staffing and funding levels for conservation below that of its peers: the BPL's staff of two full-time conservators is significantly less than the New York Public Library's thirty-five. Many colonial records and John Adams manuscripts are brittle, decaying, and in need of attention prompting the Library's acting Keeper of Rare Books and Manuscripts to say that "they are falling apart." The library is considering cutting some of its branches and staff.

In the mid-19th century, several people were instrumental in the establishment of the Boston Public Library. George Ticknor, a Harvard professor and trustee of the Boston Athenaeum, raised the possibility of establishing a public library in Boston beginning as early as 1826. At the time, Ticknor could not generate enough interest. In 1841, Alexandre Vattemare, a Frenchman, suggested that all of Boston's libraries combine themselves into one institution for the benefit of the public. The idea was presented to many Boston libraries, however, most were uninterested in the idea. At Vattemare's urging, Paris sent gifts of books in 1843 and 1847 to assist in establishing a unified public library. Vattemare made yet another gift of books in 1849. Josiah Quincy, Jr. anonymously donated $5,000 to begin the funding of a new library. Quincy made the donation while he was mayor of Boston. Indirectly, John Jacob Astor also influenced the establishment of a public library in Boston. At the time of his death, Astor bequeathed $400,000 to New York to establish a public library there. Because of the cultural and economic rivalry between Boston and New York, this bequest prompted more discussion of establishing a public library in Boston. In 1848, a statute of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts enabled the creation of the library. The library was officially established in Boston by a city ordinance in 1852. Eager to support the library, Edward Everett collected documents from both houses of Congress, bound them at his own expense, and offered this collection to help establish the new library. At the time of Everett's donation, George Ticknor became involved in the active planning for the new library. In 1852, financier Joshua Bates gave a gift of $50,000 to establish a library in Boston. After Bates' gift was received, Ticknor made lists of what books to purchase. He traveled extensively to purchase books for the library, visit other libraries, and set up book agencies. To house the collection, a former schoolhouse located on Mason Street was selected as the library's first home. On March 20, 1854, the Reading Room of the Boston Public Library officially opened to the public. The circulation department opened on May 2, 1854. The opening day collection of 16,000 volumes fit in the Mason Street building, but it quickly became obvious that its quarters were inadequate. So in December 1854, the library's commissioners authorized the library to move to a new building on Boylston Street. Designed by Charles Kirk Kirby to hold 240,000 volumes, the imposing Italianate edifice opened in 1858. But eventually the library outgrew that building as well; in 1878, an examining committee recommended replacing it with a new one at another location. By 1880, the Massachusetts legislature authorized construction of an even grander library building. A site selected was in Back Bay on Copley Square -- the prominent corner of Boylston Street and Dartmouth Street, opposite Richardson's Trinity Church and near the first Boston Museum of Fine Arts. After several years of debate over the selection of the architects and architectural style for the new library, in 1887 the prestigious New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White was chosen to design the new library. In 1888, Charles Follen McKim proposed a design based on Renaissance style which met approval from the trustees of the library, and construction commenced.

Central Library

The McKim building
The McKim building houses the BPL's research collection.

The Johnson building
Designed by Philip Johnson, a late modernist addition (which somewhat anticipated postmodernist architecture) was built in 1967-1971 and opened in 1972. The Johnson building reflects similar proportions, and is built of the same pink Milford granite as the McKim building. Critics have likened it to a mausoleum, citing the small percentage of windows relieving the massive walls in its exterior façade. Upon opening, the Johnson building became the home for the BPL's main circulating collection, which includes works in many languages. It also serves as headquarters for the Boston Public Library's 26 branch libraries.

One of the features that the Boston Public Library offered first is free wireless internet. It is offered throughout the entire library and at all 26 branches, giving access to anyone who has a wireless enabled laptop and a library card to access the Internet. Plug-in Ethernet access is also available in Bates Hall. The Boston Public Library also maintains several Internet databases providing either catalogue or full-text access to different parts of its collections, as well as to a number of proprietary databases. Public Internet access is also available to those without laptops, though this is in high demand and will be limited in duration if there are other patrons waiting.

Branch library system
In the latter half of the 19th century, the library worked vigorously to develop and expand its branch library system. Viewed as a means to extend its presence throughout the city, the branch system evolved from an idea in 1867 to a reality in 1870, when the first branch library in the United States was opened in East Boston. The library currently has 26 branches serving diverse populations in the city's neighborhoods.
  • North End, Boston
    • North End Branch, 25 Parmenter Street. A delivery station was first opened in 1882. In 1913 the branch was located at 3A North Bennett Street in 1913. In 1965 it moved to its current building, designed by Carl Koch and Associates.
  • South End, Boston
    • South End Branch, 685 Tremont Street. "Library service was established in the South End in 1877. The Branch was located in the Mercantile Library Association until 1879 when it was moved to the English High School. In 1904 the Branch relocated to 397 Shawmut Avenue and then again in 1923 to the John J. Williams Municipal Building at Shawmut Avenue and West Brookline Street. On June 7, 1971 the South End Branch Library moved to a new building at its present location, which was on the site of the original Mercantile building."
  • West End, Boston
    • West End Branch, 151 Cambridge Street. "Library service in the West End was initiated in 1894 with the conversion of the Old West Church on the corner of Cambridge and Lynde Streets to library use. The West End Branch opened in February 1896. The West End Redevelopment Project necessitated closing the Branch in 1960. As part of the project a new building designed by Maginnis, Walsh and Kennedy opened in January 1968."
  • Brighton
    • Brighton Branch, 40 Academy Hill Road, Brighton. "When the town was annexed to Boston in 1874, the Brighton Social Library became a branch of the Boston Public Library. The same year the collection was moved from the Town Hall to a ornate library building named for Brighton notable, James Holton. In 1969 a new Brighton Branch building was opened. The building was designed by Norman C. Fletcher of the Architects Collaborative of Cambridge."
    • Faneuil Branch, 419 Faneuil Street, Brighton. "Built in 1931 to replace a temporary location on Brooks Street." The branch is scheduled to close in autumn of 2010.
  • Allston
    • Honan-Allston Branch , 300 North Harvard Street, Allston. "Allston's library service began in 1889 in a delivery station in Frank Howe's drugstore at 26 Franklin Street. ... In 1905, the Allston Reading Room at 354 Cambridge Street replaced the 16 year-old delivery station. A BPL librarian staffed the reading room. It became a full-service branch of the Boston Public Library in 1924. The branch moved to rented space at 161 Harvard Avenue in 1929. ... In 1981, amid statewide budget cuts, the Allston branch was closed. ... On January 19, 2000 ground was broken for the Allston Branch Library. Designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates ... the branch officially opened for business on Saturday, June 16, 2001. On March 13, 2003 the branch was renamed the Honan-Allston branch in honor of the late City Councilor Brian Honan."
  • Charlestown
    • Charlestown Branch, 179 Main Street, Charlestown. "On January 7, 1862 the Charlestown Public Library was opened in the Warren Institution for Savings building. In planning for a year and a half the library opened with a catalog of 6,000 volumes. In 1869 the library moved to more spacious quarters in the new City Hall in City Square where it remained until 1913. The branch was then moved to the corner of Monument Square and Monument Avenue. ... In 1970 the Branch was moved to its current location."
  • Dorchester
    • Adams Street Branch, 690 Adams Street, Dorchester. "Service to the Adams Street neighborhood was first provided in 1875 through a delivery station on Walnut Street. A reading room was opened at 362 Neponset Avenue in 1947. The present branch library building was opened in 1951."
    • Codman Square Branch, 690 Washington Street, Dorchester. "Opened in 1905 the branch was named for John Codman a local preacher and patriot. Originally housed at 6 Norfolk Street, the branch moved to its present location in 1978. The building was designed by Eco-Texture, Inc."
    • Fields Corner Branch, 1520 Dorchester Avenue, Dorchester. "The Fields Corner Branch opened in 1969. It was the successor to the old Dorchester Branch which was also located in Fields Corner."
    • Grove Hall Branch, 41 Geneva Avenue, Dorchester. "The first library in this section of Roxbury opened May 1, 1898 in the rear of Mr. Mowry's Drug Store at the corner of Warren Street and Haynes Park with one table, eight chairs, two shelves and 200 books. ... In 1919 the building on the corner of Warren and Savin Streets officially became the Warren Street Branch Library. In 1926, this branch moved into its new quarters in the New Roxbury Memorial High School and thus became the Memorial Branch Library. The Memorial Branch was replaced in December 1970 by the Grove Hall Branch Library located at the corner of Warren and Crawford Streets. On April 4, 2009 the new branch library at 41 Geneva Avenue ... opened. Located in the newly-renovated Jeremiah E. Burke High School, the new library was designed by Schwartz/Silver Architects."
    • Lower Mills Branch, 27 Richmond Street, Dorchester. "Library service in Lower Mills was first offered through a branch delivery post in 1875; it was open three hours each day to take requests for books and to deliver books requested from the Central Library and the Dorchester Branch Library. Full branch services began in 1876 with a dedicated collection and expanded hours. In 1883, branch service was moved into the vacated Blue Hills Bank building. In 1931, space owned by the American Legion was purchased and in 1936 a small addition was completed. Eventually the collection outgrew that building and the present Lower Mills Branch Library building was opened in 1981." The branch is scheduled to close in autumn 2010.
    • Uphams Corner Branch, 500 Columbia Road, Dorchester. "In 1904 the Uphams Corner Branch Library moved from a temporary store-front location on Dudley Street to the two-year-old municipal building on Columbia Road."
  • East Boston
    • East Boston Branch, 276 Meridian Street, East Boston. "Established in 1869, the East Boston Branch Library was the first municipally supported branch library in the United States. It opened in the old Lyman School with the collections of the East Boston Library Association and the Sumner Library. In 1914, the present site was built."
    • Orient Heights Branch, 18 Barnes Avenue, East Boston. "The Orient Heights Branch Library opened in 1912. The building was built by the Druker family who leased it to the City of Boston. In 1986, the Druker family donated it to the City. Since 1967 the Branch has been linked with the East Boston Branch. After a fire damaged the collection in 1982 the building was reopened as a Reading Room." The branch is scheduled to close in autumn 2010.
  • Hyde Park
    • Hyde Park Branch, 35 Harvard Avenue, Hyde Park. "The town of Hyde Park opened its first library in the Cobb's block of Everett Square in 1873. In 1884 it moved to larger quarters in the Masonic Block at the corner of Harvard Avenue and River Street. Ground was broken for the Town Library in December 1898 and the ... building was opened in September, 1899. The Library became a branch of the Boston Public Library when the town joined the City of Boston in 1912. ... In 1997 ground was broken for a new addition and a renovation of the existing building," completed in 2000.
  • Jamaica Plain
    • Connolly Branch, 433 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain. "Library service to the Hyde Square area of Jamaica Plain began in 1897 with a small book deposit in the rear of a neighborhood pharmacy at the corner of Lamartine and Paul Gore Streets. Eventually, in 1905 the Boylston Branch, named for the Boylston Railroad Station, opened its doors. Responding to the need for larger space, a beautiful white limestone building was built and opened in 1932. Designed by Maginnis and Walsh in the Jacobean style, the large arched entrance leads to a large interior space with wood and glass partitions dividing the adult and children's area. The ceilings, decorated with plaster moldings, are reputedly inspired by the Rufford Abbey Library in England. On December 12, 1940 , the name of the branch was officially changed to the Monsignor Arthur T. Connolly Branch, as a tribute to Monsignor Connolly, a long-time member of the Boston Public Library Board of Trustees and pastor of the neighboring Blessed Sacrament Church."
    • Jamaica Plain Branch, 12 Sedgwick Street, Jamaica Plain. "The Jamaica Plain Branch began in June, 1876, as a small Reading Room in Curtis Hall, with books supplied by the Roxbury Branch of the BPL. In September, 1877, it expanded and became the first BPL branch to purchase books from public funds. After a fire in 1908, the present building was constructed. The architecturally distinctive building features large schoolhouse windows and two fireplaces. It opened on July 24, 1911. An addition was built in 1936 and the interior was remodeled in 1963."
  • Mattapan
    • Mattapan Branch, 1350 Blue Hill Avenue, Mattapan. A "small reading room was granted Branch status in 1923. ... On June 22, 1931 the Mattapan Library Branch at 10 Hazelton Street opened its doors. ... On February 28, 2009 the ... new Mattapan Branch at 1350 Blue Hill Avenue" opened, designed by William Rawn Associates Architects, Inc.
  • Roslindale
    • Roslindale Branch, 4238 Washington St., Roslindale. "Library service has been provided to Roslindale since 1898. At that time, a book delivery station was located in a drugstore at the corner of Washington and Ashland Streets. ... In 1900 the library was moved to the Old Taft's Tavern building. In 1918, having outgrown its quarters, the library moved to the Municipal Building at the Corner of Washington Street and Cummins Highway. When the municipal facility became outmoded plans were made to move the library again. At the corner of Washington and Poplar Streets was a fire house which was torn down for the new library site. In 1961, a semi-circular building with huge glass windows, topped with a low blue dome, was designed by Isidor Richmond and Carny Goldberg."
  • Roxbury
    • Dudley Branch, 65 Warren Street, Roxbury. "The Dudley Branch Library opened its doors in its current location at 65 Warren Street, in April of 1978, replacing both the Mount Pleasant Branch and the privately endowed Fellowes Athenaeum."
    • Egleston Square, 2044 Columbus Avenue, Roxbury. "Opened on July 8, 1953 the building was designed by the firm of Isidor Richmond and Carney Goldberg."
    • Parker Hill Branch, 1497 Tremont Street, Roxbury. "The Branch first opened in a rented space at 1518 Tremont Street in July 1907." In 1929 Ralph Adams Cram designed the current building, opened in 1931.
  • South Boston
    • South Boston Branch, 646 East Broadway, South Boston. "The South Boston Branch first opened in April 1872 in the Masonic building at 372 West Broadway. It was the second branch library established in the United States. When the Masonic building was sold in 1948 the South Boston Branch was closed. ... The branch was reopened in June 1950 in a storefront at 385-8 West Broadway were it remained until destroyed by fire in May 1957. The present building ... consolidated the City Point Branch with the South Boston Branch."
    • Washington Village Branch, 1226 Columbia Road, South Boston, MA. "Originally named the Andrew Square Reading Room, or "Station Y", the Branch was first opened in January 1901 in the John A. Andrew School on Dorchester Street. In 1942 it was moved to 290 Old Colony Avenue in the Old Colony Housing Project, and was renamed the Washington Village Branch. The Branch was closed due to a fire in August 1972, and attempts to repair the building were unsuccessful. Library service to the Washington Village neighborhood was provided by a bookmobile until budget cuts closed the bookmobile service. ... A task force of Old Colony residents applied for a federal grant that enabled the Housing Authority to remodel two apartments into a small library facility. The Branch was reopened in 1983." The branch in the Old Colony Housing Development is scheduled to close in autumn 2010.
  • West Roxbury
    • West Roxbury Branch, 1961 Centre Street, West Roxbury. "In 1876 the Boston Public Library created a delivery station when it took over the collection of the West Roxbury Free Library. In 1896 it became a full branch of the Boston Public Library. In 1921-22 a new library building was built at the present site. In 1977 a devastating fire destroyed the neighboring West Roxbury Congregational Church and the land was deeded to the Trustees of the Boston Public Library for the purpose of an addition to the Branch building. On September 24, 1989 the new addition was opened to the public with community rooms, a gallery and a reading garden. The branch is home to the West Roxbury Historical Society."
  • Old building, Boylston St., 1858”“1895
  • Old building, Boylston St., 1850s


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