History of the State Library
In the beginning...
In the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania for 5 December
1745 appears the following: "Ordered, That the Clerk send to England for the best Edition of the Statutes at large, for the Use of the House, and also for some large Maps (one of North America) to be hung up in the Assembly
Room." By this action, Benjamin Franklin, Clerk of the Assembly, became
instrumental in creation
of the Pennsylvania State Library.
the following decade, the collection grew to be a library
with more than £1,000 invested in books. The library came under the influence of Charles Norris, who was
appointed "Keeper of the Assembly Library" in 1754, and it shared quarters
in the old State House (now Independence Hall in Philadelphia) with Franklin's other library interest, the Library Company of Philadelphia. An order of January 1767, requiring
volumes to be stamped "Assembly of Pennsylvania," has made it possible to
identify 422 of the original
collection still extant in their fine leather bindings, handsomely gold-tooled and blind stamped.
no catalog of the library has been found prior to 1829, it is possible to gain some insight
into the reading preferences of that early period by examining
the surviving Assembly volumes and the roughly
1,600 titles listed in that first catalog. An eclectic taste
prevailed, for the collection runs the gamut of law, government, politics, history, science, philosophy, religion, geography, travels and fiction. Major emphasis was given to law and related materials, and these comprised about half of the collection.
Arrangement was made by size (octavo, quarto, folio) and short title.
On the move...
After the American defeat at the Battle of the Brandywine in September 1777, the British advanced to occupy Philadelphia, and the Assembly Library was hastily removed to Easton.
It was moved again in
November to Lancaster.
After the British evacuation of Philadelphia in June 1778, the library was returned to its original
quarters in the State House, although
the books were much the worse for their exposure to "long lying in damp places."
Shortly after Harrisburg
became the state capital in 1810, the library joined the legislature in temporary rooms in the old Dauphin County
courthouse. By 1816, three separate collections had been formed:
those of the Senate, House, and the Assembly.
To correct this needless
duplication, an act of February 1816 made legal provision for combining the libraries as a single State Library, the maintenance and supervision of which fell to an officially designated State Librarian and a library
After 1854 the State Librarian
was appointed by the Governor, rather than by a library committee. It is interesting to note the
conditions for the State Librarian's appointment. His term of office was three years at an annual salary of $800. He was to be bonded for $2,000 and was expected
to keep the library open 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. weekdays,
and 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. during
A threatened attack on Harrisburg
by Confederate troops in June 1863 saw the State Library in precipitous flight to Philadelphia - all 20,000 volumes tossed with abandon into freight cars for the trip. Two months
later, the library was returned to Harrisburg, having miraculously survived another crisis.
Better days arrived with the appointment of a series of three distinguished scholar-historians as State
Librarian. The first of these, Dr. Charles Ehrenfeld, State Librarian 1878-1882, recognized the value of contemporary newspapers and the early Pennsylvania imprints. The work he began continues to the present day and now constitutes a most useful and valuable collection.
The noted historian and bibliophile, Dr. William Egle, introduced a card catalog in 1898 while pressing forward the expansion of the historical and genealogical collections. His term of service as State Librarian
was 1887 to 1898.
The fortuitous appointment of Thomas
Lynch Montgomery as State Librarian in 1903 ushered in a period
of considerable growth for the State Library. The encouragement of Governor Samuel Pennypacker, himself an ardent bookman,
led to innovations and new directions. During the 19 years of Montgomery's service, the library adopted
the Dewey system of classification and the historical and genealogical collections grew still larger. After 1905, the State Librarian was also curator
of the State Museum, and it was in this role that Montgomery established the State Archives and Division of Public
Records. In this same year, a lantern
slide collection was formed,
a pioneer effort at that time.
In 1919, the Library
was reorganized to bring consolidate all activities into one organization. Library Extension, the forerunner of the current Bureau of Library Development, was a new division brought into the Library, although the work had been going on for many years under an independent Free Library Commission. In 1899, under the urging of a number of gentlemen
interested in free libraries, the Legislature had provided for the Commission, charged with the duty of giving advice to any community
proposing to establish
a library, or to libraries already existing, as to establishment, administration, cataloging and other matters connected
with library work. The Commission was instrumental in the founding of more than 300 public libraries and traveling book collections for Pennsylvania. Library extension work continued to develop throughout the 1920s.
became a part of the Department of Public
Instruction (later the Department of Education) in 1923 and moved into the new Education Building
1931. At the time of the move, the Museum stayed behind in the Capitol Annex and joined with the State Archives to become parts of the State Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission upon its creation in 1945. The Library's place within the
Department's structure has changed as the Department has undergone reorganizations, leading finally to the naming of the State Librarian
as Deputy Secretary
and Commissioner in 1990.
effects of the Great Depression left their mark on the State Library by way of curtailed
services and depleted staff, although WPA projects contributed several worthwhile additions to the Library's
resources. Of these, the art illustrations file and census inventories are reminders of a quieter
work level for librarians. Having into new and more commodious quarters in the new Education Building (now the Forum Building)
in 1931, the Library experienced a
gradual development of services and facilities through its General Library, Law and Extension divisions, despite years of accommodations to the fortunes
of depression and war. The Extension
division in particular received a new impetus the same year with the enactment of the County Library
Aid law that made money and books available
to libraries requiring
A time of library growth...
Federal and state library legislation breathed new life to statewide
library programs in the 1950s and 1960s. The passage of the federal Library Services Act in 1956 made funds available for the first time to aid state libraries
in the extension of public service to rural areas. The State Library
commissioned a study by Lowell Martin that pointed the way to a state system of local
library centers, and regional library resource centers. The Library Code, first enacted
by the General Assembly in 1961, during the tenure of the State Librarian Ralph Blasingame, and revised a number of time since then, provided state support to supplement and stimulate local support of public libraries. The vigor of the State Library's staff, led by Ernest Doerschuk,
Jr., State Librarian from 1964 to 1978, and strengthened with federal dollars and the new state aid appropriations, brought Pennsylvania again to a period of national library leadership. Amendments to the federal legislation (now called the Library
Services and Technology Act) and The Library Code have periodically broadened the State Library's responsibility. The restriction in the federal program to rural library
service was lifted; new titles and appropriations provided support for programs of interlibrary cooperation, service to residents
of state institutions, and service to the blind and physically handicapped; and appropriations reached a level sufficient
to significantly strengthen the State Library's staff and collection. The Code was revised again in 2012 and is now known at the Public Library Code.
in the mid-1960s, the General Assembly has made annual appropriations to the State Library
to support the service of the Regional
Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, operated by the Free Library of Philadelphia and The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, to serve Pennsylvanians with visual or other disabilities who cannot read conventional printed materials. Using additional grants for demonstration projects, staff has worked with state correctional institutions and hospitals to establish
strong resident library programs.
The 1961 Library
Code placed a ceiling
on the amount of state aid that could be disbursed; in less than two decades, local support had grown to the extent that state money no longer served as a
stimulant. During the tenure of State Librarian Elliot Shelkrot, Act 200 of 1980 removed the ceiling and enabled a
doubling of the state aid appropriation. A subsequent
amendment authorized the support of cooperative programs among libraries of different types, and appropriations have begun to follow the legislation.
Regulations promulgating standards for local public libraries, district library centers, and public library systems have served as measures of the effectiveness of public library service.
Advent of automation...
the last three decades of the 20th century, the State Library made
significant use of federal dollars to hasten the use of automation to support improved service to Pennsylvania's library users. Successively, large commitments made possible
the adoption of online, shared cataloging through OCLC by the district
and a number of academic
libraries; the use of microcomputers to improve management
and administration of libraries; the widespread use of telefax equipment for reference, interlibrary loan, and improved communication; and, mo re
recently, access to Internet services through libraries and the digitization of historic collections.
Administrative changes in the 1980s strengthened and broadened the programs further. The formerly separate General and Law Libraries were combined in 1981, leading, for the first time, to a unified policy of collection and service development for all of the Library's users and, eventually, to a computerized catalog of the entire collection. The catalog today is accessible through the Internet and is available on computer
systems maintained by many departments in state government.
and comprehensive plans are part of the landscape of America's library programs, and the State Library of Pennsylvania has commissioned its share. Under the leadership of State Librarian Elliot
Shelkrot, the Comprehensive Plan of 1983 provided the impetus to bring school
libraries into the statewide resource-sharing program, and to start a statewide library card program for public libraries. Under the ACCESS PENNSYLVANIA banner, a blend of federal,
state, and school
district funds has supported the development and expansion of a statewide
database of library catalogs, accessible on the Internet in all kinds of libraries across the Commonwealth. The ACCESS PENNSYLVANIA statewide database program quickly became a model for the nation,
and brought new renown to the State Library
of Pennsylvania. All public libraries receiving state aid now participate in the statewide library card system. Resource sharing has also been encouraged by the development of a liberal
state interlibrary loan code. The program, under the banner of POWER
Library, has expanded to include
access to electronic resources and digital objects from Pennsylvania libraries.
In the 1990's the Office of the State Librarian
became a deputate within the Department of Education and added the name Office
of Commonwealth Libraries. It has two bureaus: the Bureau of Library Development and the Bureau of State Library.
and addition of State Library programs have had to fit into the patterns of growth and reduction in state government. Beginning with the late 1970s and again in the early 2000's, state
budgets were tightened
and there was a general
public sense that government should be reined in. The Bureau of State Library gradually lost some staff positions. The collections and staff became more focused on the actual work needs of state
government and slowly reduced
the hours of general public service, from 56 hours weekly in 1984 to 27.5 hours in 1992 and to 22.5 hours in 2009. Most services
remain at the basic level. The Genealogy/Local History Collection operates
on a self-service basis.
The Bureau of State Library collects in subjects of concern to state government and in Pennsylvania- related subjects. The Library's collections of Pennsylvania newspapers (hard copy and microfilm), Pennsylvania state publications, and federal documents received on deposit since the early days of the republic
remains a valuable
Note: This history was adopted
from a 1970 PLA Bulletin article by Robert Bray Wingate, Former Head, Rare Books and Special Collections State Library of Pennsylvania, with additions covering 1970 through 1995 by David R. Hoffman, Former Director of Library Services and Acting State Librarian, 1987 to 1988. Additions
covering 1995 through 2014 have been added by Alice Lubrecht, Director of Library Services
and Acting State Librarian, 2012.
For an historical list of the State Librarians who have served the
Office of Commonwealth Libraries since 1745, see the Roster of Pennsylvania State Librarians.