• A portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

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    Benjamin Franklin
    • Description
    • Printmakers include Jacques Gautier Dagoty, Carl Guttenberg, Henry Bryan Hall, Albert Rosenthal, Max Rosenthal & Samuel Sartain. Draughtsmen include David McNeely Stauffer. Title from Calendar of Emmet Collection. Includes photomechanical reproductio... more
      Printmakers include Jacques Gautier Dagoty, Carl Guttenberg, Henry Bryan Hall, Albert Rosenthal, Max Rosenthal & Samuel Sartain. Draughtsmen include David McNeely Stauffer. Title from Calendar of Emmet Collection. Includes photomechanical reproductions. less
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection. The New York Public Library

  • The Library Company of Philadelphia's charter, rules, and catalog of books, 1764. Courtesy of HathiTrust.

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    The charter, laws, and catalogue of books, of the Library company of Philadelphia
    • Date
    • 1764
    • Creator
    • Library Company of Philadelphia.
    • Description
    • A list of the present members of the Library company of Philadelphia. February, 1765": p. 149-150.
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust

  • The Library Company of Philadelphia's bulletins, including a list of new books and check-out rules. Courtesy of University of California via HathiTrust.

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    Bulletin of the Library Company of Philadelphia (Includes list of new books and check-out rules)
    • Creator
    • Library Company of Philadelphia.
    • Description
    • No More Published, After Ser.3 No.38(?).
    • Rights
    • Public domain only when viewed in the US. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of California.

  • A copy of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack from the Library Company of Philadelphia's collection. Courtesy of University of Minnesota via HathiTrust.

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    Poor Richard improved (from the original Library Company collection)
    • Date
    • 2006
    • Creator
    • Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790.
    • Description
    • This facsimile edition of the original in the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia was printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office to commemorate the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, 2006"--p. [36]. Shipping list no.: 2006-0167-P. Rem... more
      This facsimile edition of the original in the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia was printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office to commemorate the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, 2006"--p. [36]. Shipping list no.: 2006-0167-P. Remainer of title: Containing also, the lunations, conjunctions, eclipses, judgment of the weather, rising and setting of the planets, length of days and nights, fairs, courts, roads, but may, without sensible error, serve all the northern colonies. less
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of Minnesota.

In pre-Revolutionary War America, books were hard to come by for anyone who was not wealthy or a member of the clergy. The expense and rarity of books meant that members of the middle or lower classes did not readily have access to reading material.

That changed in July 1731, when Founding Father Benjamin Franklin helped bring the membership library to the American colonies. Franklin worked with the other members of what was called the Junto, a club of thinkers that gathered to discuss "queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy," as Franklin described in his autobiography. Franklin and the other Junto members, primarily merchants, owned few books and were looking for a way to access more material for their weekly discussions.

Using money from the Junto members, alongside a forty-shilling investment from each of the library's first fifty members, Library Company organizers started its first collection. By 1732, they had sent the library's first book order to London. Though many of the library's early books were about education or religion, the collection expanded to feature broader topics. Notably, a majority of the Library Company's books were written in English. (At the time, most other private and university libraries had collections primarily in Latin.) Library members could access these books as they pleased, while non-members would need to provide collateral for their borrowed book.