World’s First Free Public Library Supported by Taxation

By Sue Coletta

Photo credit: http://www.libraryhistorybuff.com/

Our local TV station runs a short segment during WMUR’s Chronicle with Fritz Wetherbee, an old-timer who’s a brilliant historian. Every night Fritz shares fascinating stories about New Hampshire. I love learning about the statues, landmarks, buildings, rivers and lakes in my state.

The other night he shared a story about a Unitarian minister who founded the world’s first free public library supported by taxation.

Literary-minded Reverend Abiel Abbot (December 14, 1765 – January 31, 1859) moved from Wilton, NH to Peterborough, NH in 1827 and immediately set up a youth library in his home. He also founded the Peterborough Library Company, supported by membership dues. In proposing the creation of the town library, he described “a central collection of books that would be owned by the people and free to all of those that lived in the town.”

The library website offers the following…

“Inspired by the result, the New Hampshire State Legislature passed a law authorizing towns across the state to raise money for libraries in 1849. Britain wouldn’t pass its Public Libraries Act until 1850, and America’s first large public library—the Boston Public Library—was founded in 1852.”

Photo credit: http://www.libraryhistorybuff.com/

During a town meeting at Peterborough in 1833, Abbot proposed that a portion of the State Literary Fund be used for the purchase of books to establish a library, free to all the citizens of the town. Books purchased by Reverend Abbot and a board of trustees were made available for public use.

Reverend Abbot housed the original Peterborough Town Library in a general store that doubled as the post office, with the postmaster acting as librarian until 1854. After a short stint at town hall, a permanent home was finally built in 1893 to house a book collection that had grown into the thousands.

In a thesis published in 1947, Sidney Ditzion commented on the Peterborough Public Library.

“The account of the establishment of a town library at Peterborough, New Hampshire, is unique in that here we have an instance of what appears to be the spontaneous generation of an entirely new form.  Here, without the stimulus of private donation, without the permission of state legislation, without the semblance of a model in the mother country, a tax-supported town library was born.

The circumstances surrounding the creation of this institution raise an interesting historical question involving local circumstance and group motivation to which no answer has yet been offered.  In January of 1833 a group of farmers and small manufacturers under the leadership of the Rev. Abiel Abbot formed a social library whose shares sold at two dollars and whose annual membership fee was fifty cents. 

On April 9 of the same year the town, apparently under the inspiration of the same Rev. Abbot voted to set aside for the purchase of books a portion of the state bank tax which was distributed among New Hampshire towns for library purposes.  This was the way the first American town library to be continuously supported over a period of years was begun.”

Reverend Abbot founded several other libraries, too, including the Juvenile Library and the Library Company of Peterborough. In 1965, on the bicentennial of Abbot’s birth, New Hampshire State Legislature passed a resolution to recognize Abbot’s role in founding the “first free public library in the world supported by taxation.” This resolution also requested that the President of the United States and the Postmaster General issue a postage stamp to commemorate the bicentennial of Abbot’s birth.

Today, Peterborough Public Library remains the oldest public library in the world. Pretty cool, eh?

For discussion, please share one historical fact about your town or state. Does your local news have a guy like Fritz Wetherbee? The name kills me. He looks exactly how you picture him.

Quick update to my previous post: I’m still keeping the raven alive 19 long, emotional days, but it’ll be worth it if she flies again. One day I couldn’t find her, and I thought for sure a night predator found her. The next day, she strutted back into the yard for breakfast. What a will to live! Here’s a quick video of Rave chowing down. See the wing?

More later. I’m hoping this story has a happy ending.

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The Value of Libraries

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert” – Andrew Carnegie

My local library is a hive of activity with a bustling cafe attached, a used book sale area, and a busy downstairs where almost every table is occupied by 10am with people working on laptops, reading newspapers, or logging on to the free wifi on the row of public computers available. Upstairs, there is wonderful children’s section with story time and other parent-children activities, and meeting rooms that hold an array of community events and speakers. I remain thankful that my local community and government values a library such as ours because in many other places, the very existence of community libraries is under threat. In the UK for example, nearly 500 libraries have closed since 2010 and many libraries are now being run by volunteers due to budgetary costs and restrictions. The results of this are heartbreaking, especially since, by many accounts library use is actually on the increase (see The Guardian’s report on library closures here).

After seeing posts on Twitter about the rise in volunteer-run libraries in England, I began to think more carefully about what libraries mean to me and my community. They are more than just a place to borrow books or DVDs or CDs – for some it’s a safe, warm, place to read or study, for others it may be a way to find social connection in their lives, and for some people it might be their only way of accessing the internet (which could be crucial in terms of a job search or education). The more I thought about libraries, the more I realized how lucky I was to have such a fantastic one in my community.

Growing up in Australia, our local library was really my only source of research (yes, this was in the dark ages before the internet) and it was a family outing to go there to borrow books or to get material needed for dreaded homework assignments. Now, although I can access much of my book research online, I still find myself drawn to my local library – and I’m frequently seen laden down with books as I struggle back to my car. Our library recently updated their online ebook lending system (the app is called Libby) which makes it easy to borrow ebooks and download them to my Kindle. So for me the library has immediate, work related value, in that it enables me to undertake research without completely draining my bank account:) For my twin boys, the library is still their ‘go to’ place for books and they have discovered many new series and authors simply by making a decision to try something new (no risk as no money was expended!).  For many others, the library provides intangible benefits too – offering a means of attaining social mobility, self-improvement and providing opportunities to reach beyond the limitations of social or economic class.

Still, I wonder in this day and age whether people still value libraries the way I do – so I was heartened to read the American Library Association’s annual report (which you can view here) that indicates that American libraries are still receiving the funding and attention they deserve (though that’s not to say there aren’t still challenges or threats to that!).

So TKZers, I’d love to know what libraries mean to you. Do you still visit your local community library on a regular basis? What do you think is the value of a library today?

 

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Another Way to Get Your Ebooks into Libraries

Jordan Dane

Available for Amazon ebook preorder now

Available for Amazon ebook preorder now

 

Interested in getting your ebooks into libraries and get paid? And would you like to do it without forcing libraries to repurchase your digital offering after a restricted loan count as if it has a limited shelf life? You can upload your ebook into Overdrive or get to Overdrive through Smashwords. Both can be cumbersome systems to work with and have their challenges, there are many e-book programs being developed every year, such as Sqribble, and more and more platforms to read ebooks, not just iBooks.
But I wanted to share a developing alternative.
EbooksAreForever

EbooksAreForever is a platform to help libraries sustainably purchase ebooks from independent authors and publishers. It was launched in March 2014. Since it’s new to me, and I’d been looking for a means to reach out to libraries for my indie pubbed and backlist novels, I thought I’d share what I found.

Ebooksareforever’s philosophy is based around sustainability. They believe libraries should be able to buy ebooks at affordable prices. Since ebooks are digital and not physically degradable items, libraries should be able to own and offer them to loan for eternity.

Authors JA Konrath and August Wainwright co-founded ebooksareforever to sell DRM-free ebooks with no re-licensing restrictions.

“We deliver a curated collection of titles from independent authors and independent publishers and make it as simple as possible for both the author/publisher and the library to interact with the collection and to fairly compensate the author/publisher for every transaction.”

—August Wainwright, co-founder

How does EbooksAreForever work?

I’m excited at the prospect of having a new avenue into libraries, but understandably, libraries need a gatekeeper to ensure quality. How does that work?

Every author and book is approved by a curation team. “We need this because we’re working hand in hand with libraries”, says Wainwright, “and we need to deliver what they’re asking for. We assess by reviews, number of titles the author has available, whether those titles are in a series, quality of cover art, interest in libraries, and genre saturation in our system. We couldn’t be taken seriously if, say, 80% of our titles were romance. It equally wouldn’t work if every book had to have at least 200 reviews on Amazon.”

Good news. If your book is rejected, you can reapply 60 days later.

Each book is purchased by a library on ‘perpetual license’. They pay once and they can use it forever. Only one copy can be checked out at a time.

Will authors get paid?

Yes. Titles are sold to libraries for $7.99 (full-length) and $3.99 to $4.99 for shorter works. Authors receive 70% royalty of every sale.

Ebooksareforever says it hopes to evolve the submission/rejection process once the business grows and the system flourishes, but the current focus is on developing and sustaining a robust system which is a trusted resource and popular with libraries.

They are also working on ‘patron apps’ which will break the business out of the US and allow global libraries to purchase titles with patrons loaning copies using universal apps. This system should also see broader opportunities for author payment. A very exciting prospect.

PROS

• Free to submit

• Author payment

• Set up by authors for authors

CONS

• There are rigorous curation efforts that favor series and higher-profile authors

• For now, it’s limited to US-only

Discussion:
What have you heard about EbooksAreForever?

Any other ways to distribute your ebooks into libraries besides the ones I’ve mentioned?

tmp_4087-TheLastVictim_highres-1601584079The Last Victim available for ebook preorder at a discounted price. After release, will be available in print and ebook formats.

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