Today is the 181st birthday of the Peterborough Town Library. Even Garrison Keillor marks the event on today’s Writer’s Almanac, from American Public Media. Click here to have a look and listen!
From today’s broadcast:
On this date in 1833, the world’s oldest taxpayer-supported public library was founded in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The money for the Peterborough Public Library came from the State Literary Fund, tax money collected from the sale of capital stock for the purpose of paying for a state university. There wasn’t enough money in the fund to fulfill its original purpose, so a Unitarian minister named Abiel Abbot proposed that some of the money be used to purchase books that could be lent to townspeople free of charge. Reverend Abbot’s idea fell on fertile ground in the New England of the 1830s: temperance, anti-slavery, and education reform were only a few of the utopian social movements that were beginning to gather steam at that time. As Emerson wrote, “The modern mind believed that the nation existed for the individual, for the guardianship and education of every man.”
This was not Reverend Abbot’s first library; he had already established a Juvenile Library and a “social library,” supported by paid membership, in Peterborough. In 1849, as a result of Abbot’s innovation, the New Hampshire State Legislature became the first in the nation to pass a law giving towns the right to raise money to establish their own public libraries.