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The Boston Public Library, Part I

The institution is called the Boston Public Library (B.P.L.), but its formal name is the Public Library of the City of Boston. Today, the B.P.L.’s Central Library occupies two buildings, named after their architects, The McKim Building and The Johnson Building, which stand side-by-side in Copley Square.

The circulating collections are in The Johnson Building. The McKim Building houses the research collections of the B.P.L., along with rare books, and fine art. Founded in 1848, the Boston Public Library (BPL) is the oldest municipal public library in the United States.

The General Court of Massachusetts – as the state’s legislature was then called – passed legislation on March 18, 1848 to authorize the City of Boston to establish a public library.[1] Sixteen days later, Mayor Josiah Quincy signed a law passed by the Boston Board of Aldermen to establish the library.

The B.P.L. opened on March 20, 1854 with a collection of about 16,000 volumes. The first location of the B.P.L. was a former schoolhouse on Mason Street. It was there from 1854 to 1858.

Boston’s first purpose-built public library building was on Boylston Street. It housed the B.P.L. from 1858 to 1895.

In addition to being the first publicly supported free municipal library in the world, the B.P.L. was the first library to allow its patrons to borrow books. In 1852, it became the first public library to issue an annual report by library trustees.

The B.P.L. was a pioneer in many other respects. It one of the original twenty-two public libraries in the country designated as Patent Depository Libraries by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1871.

In 1869, the B.P.L. became the first American public library to establish a branch system. The first branch to open was the East Boston Branch Library. Between 1872 and 1900, twenty-one more Branches began serving communities throughout Boston's diverse neighborhoods.

Established in 1869, the East Boston Branch Library was dedicated on March 22, 1871, in the old Lyman School. The third iteration of the East Boston Branch building opened at 276 Meridian Street in 1914.

The Drucker family built the Orient Heights Branch Library, which opened in 1912, at 5 Butler Street, and leased the building to the City of Boston. In 1982, the library re-located to 18 Barnes Avenue.

In 1921, the Jeffries Point Reading Room opened in East Boston. It became a branch in 1924 and moved to 222 Webster Street in 1932.

In November of 2013, the new East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library opened at 365 Bremen Street. It is 15,000 square feet and has an open floor plan with dedicated areas for children, teenagers, and adults. A series of paintings by Frederick Leonard King (1879-1947) called “History of Shipping” are displayed in the Reading Room on a rotating basis.

Other features include free building-wide Wi-Fi, 54 fifty-four public computers, a flexible multipurpose room, and a reading room with materials dedicated to East Boston's history, including clipper ships. William Rawn Associates Architects, Inc. designed the building for energy efficiency, and it will achieve LEED certification from the United States Green Building Council

The construction of this new iteration of the East Boston Branch Library was a capital project of the City of Boston, managed by the Property and Construction Management Department. The project budget was $17,250,000. The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners supported the project with a grant of $7,250,000.

The Brighton neighborhood has had library service for over 200 years, which tells us library service in Brighton predates the Boston Public Library opening a branch there or there even being a Boston Public Library. For a fee, residents of Brighton could patronize the Brighton Social Library.

The Brighton Library Association, which formed in 1858, absorbed the Brighton Social Library. It formed with the intention that the library its founders created be later transferred to government control. In Article V of the Brighton Library Association’s Bylaws, they wrote that if the Town of Brighton should “make suitable provision for the maintenance and increase of the library,” the Brighton Library Association trustees would “deliver up to the Town of Brighton…the library and other property of the association.”

The Brighton Library Association was also dependent on subscriptions, but any Brighton resident could join, and the $1 annual membership fee could be paid in installments in sums as small as five cents per week. However, like the Brighton Social Library, it was only open once a week. It was open on Saturdays from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The Brighton Library Association’s library opened in Brighton Town Hall with a collection of 1,300 volumes. In 1864, James Holton, a rich resident who had left a bequest of $6,000 to purchase books for a public library in Brighton. This prompted the city government to establish the Brighton Public Library that year.

In 1874, Boston annexed Brighton, the Brighton Public Library became a branch of the Boston Public Library, and the collection moved from what had been the Brighton Town Hall to a Norman Romanesque-style library building named for Holton. The current Brighton Branch Library building opened on the same site in 1969.

The 22,400-square-foot Brighton Branch Library at 40 Academy Hill Road, re-opened in December of 2010 after more than eighteen months of extensive interior renovations. The City of Boston's Property and Construction Management Department managed this capital project, which updated the mechanical equipment, provided Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, improved sightlines, and increased technological capacity.

According to the B.P.L., “The renovation of the 1969 building created light-filled spaces with modern furniture, a new teen space with café-style seating, a new community room, and a landscaped yard on Academy Hill Road. Visitors can also take advantage of more than 20 new computers for all ages.”

The Brighton Branch earned LEED® Silver Certification established by the U.S. Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute. The Brighton Branch is one of the first renovated City of Boston buildings to incorporate the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Commercial Interiors guidelines.

Long before the Adams Street Branch Library stood at 690 Adams Street in Dorchester, there was a delivery station on Walnut Street, which began service in 1875. A reading room was opened at 362 Neponset Avenue in 1947.

The present branch library building opened in 1951, and represented the first new neighborhood branch built in twenty years. The B.P.L. stated, “In 2004, through the fundraising efforts of the Friends of the Adams Street Library, a portion of the library’s yard was transformed into a Reading Garden, featuring decorative brickwork, colorful landscaping and wrought iron benches, a peaceful oasis in the midst of a busy urban neighborhood.”

Charleston is another neighborhood that was formerly a separate town. On January 7, 1862 the Charlestown Public Library opened in the bank building of the Warren Institution for Savings.

It opened with a catalog of 6,000 volumes. In 1869, the library moved to larger quarters in the new Charlestown City Hall in City Square, where it remained until 1913.

The Charleston Branch then moved to the corner of Monument Square and Monument Avenue, near the Bunker Hill Monument. In 1970, the Charleston Branch Library moved to its current location at 179 Main Street.

The Codman Square Branch Library opened in 1905 the branch and was named for John Codman, a local preacher and patriot. Originally housed at 6 Norfolk Street, the branch moved to its present location at 690 Washington Street in the Dorchester neighborhood in 1978. Eco-Texture, Inc. designed the building.

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