Thursday, January 12, 2023

Stewards of America’s First Public Lending Library Bring Era to an End

Historic Franklin Library Association Releases History Book, Organizes Seminar on the Role of the Library in American Democracy.

In 1858, a group of public-spirited citizens banded together as the Franklin Library Association (FLA) to ensure the care of the books originally received by the town as a gift from America’s founding father, Benjamin Franklin. 

In a historic 1788 vote, the town selectmen had voted to make the books available for borrowing by any resident – creating the first public lending library in the nation.  An early beneficiary of this policy was a poor boy named Horace Mann, who would eventually become known as the “Father of American Public Education,” and as a Congressman and college president.

But by the 1850s, the book collection was suffering from neglect with no permanent home.

That’s when the Franklin Library Association stepped up, raising funds, hiring a librarian, and providing a place for the public to access the books. Indeed, for more than a century, the Association was a primary funding source for the library, intimately involved in managing it in the interest of the town.

With the Franklin Public Library now well supported by state and local funds and housed in a handsome, twice-expanded facility, the Association has decided to cease operations, having gradually disbursed most of its funds for library preservation and restoration projects in recent years.

One of its last projects has been the creation of a history of the organization and of the Franklin library from its inception.  The published, 160-page book is being introduced to the public at a special reception at the Franklin Public Library on Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, Jan. 17, 2023, at 6 PM. Following shortly afterward at 6:30 PM the Association, in cooperation with the Library, is holding a panel discussion, “Ben’s Donation at 245 - an Exploration of the Role of Libraries in America’s Democracy, Then, Now, and in the Future.” 

The Panel will be moderated by FLA president Scott Nolan. Confirmed panelists include:
  • James C. Johnston, Author, Historian, and Former Franklin Selectman
  • Patricia Saint Aubin, a PhD candidate with expertise in the history of the Ben Franklin-inspired Providence Library Company
  • R. A. Lawson (Ph.D., Vanderbilt, 2003) is professor of history and Director of the Honors Program at Dean College
The panel is open to the public and will be broadcast by Franklin TV.  For more information on the book, the panel, or the Franklin Library Association, please contact Scott Nolan at
About the FLA: The Franklin Library Association is a 501 (c)3 organization, Scott F. Nolan is the President, Armand Fernandez Treasurer, Ed Padden, Secretary. Other board members include Nancy J. Rappa, Maryjane Whiton, Beth A. Mucciarone, Joan McGuire, Greg Dellorco, and Shirley Borruso
Stewards of America’s First Public Lending Library Bring Era to an End
Stewards of America’s First Public Lending Library Bring Era to an End

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