First Facts

In addition to being the first publicly supported free municipal library in the world, the Boston Public Library has many other distinctions such as:

  • The first library to allow its citizens to borrow books and materials, a truly revolutionary concept at the time.
  • The first public library to issue an Annual Report by Library Trustees (1852), a notable inspiration to the American public library movement.
  • 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.
  • The first library to establish a branch system, opening an East Boston branch in 1870. Between 1872 and 1900, twenty-one more Branches began serving communities throughout Boston's diverse neighborhoods.
  • The first library to establish a space specifically designated for children. The Children's Room was opened at the BPL in 1895 and offered more than 3,000 books within the unhampered reach of young children.
  • The first library to introduce the art of formal storytelling. Recognizing the power of stories to enthrall children and adults alike, the celebrated European storyteller Marie Shedlock first appeared in the Children's Room of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square in 1902.
  • The first public business reference library to be established through a gift from a private citizen. In 1930, Boston businessman and Library Trustee Louis E. Kirstein provided the funds to establish the Edward Kirstein Business Branch in downtown Boston in honor of his father.
  • A pioneer in establishing audiovisual services for libraries. In 1950, the first Audiovisual Department in a New England library was established at the Boston Public Library, and AV materials, including 16 mm films and LP recordings, were regularly loaned to patrons throughout the area.

Further, the Boston Public Library is:

  • The largest public research library in New England.
  • A Library of the Commonwealth for all citizens of Massachusetts.
  • One of only two public libraries in the United States that are members of the Association of Research Libraries.
  • A depository for Massachusetts government documents.
  • A regional depository for U.S. government documents.
  • A depository for United Nations documents.