Library Look: The Free Library of Philadelphia

It is the tenth-largest public library system in the United States by number of volumes held.

A quick history from the library’s website: Initiated by the efforts of Dr. William Pepper, the Free Library of Philadelphia was chartered in 1891 as “a general library which shall be free to all.” Pepper received initial funding for the Library through a $225,000 bequest from his wealthy uncle, George S. Pepper. However, litigation arose as several existing libraries claimed the bequest. The Free Library finally opened in March of 1894 after the courts decided the money was intended to found a new public library.

The architects responsible for the beautiful building, The Trumbauer Firm, were quite prolific in the Philadelphia area, with their most famous buildings being Reading Railroad’s station and Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania. Their most famous popculture building is the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky. He ran up the steps to the museum during his training and there is a status commemorating the scene.

The Free Library of Philadelphia houses several rare and unique special collections. The Rare Book Department at Parkway Central Library features one of the world’s most renowned Charles Dickens collections, featuring first editions, personal letters, and Dickens’s stuffed pet raven Grip, as well as the largest Beatrix Potter collection outside of the United Kingdom. The Department also houses robust collections of cuneiform tablets, medieval and Oriental manuscripts, and Pennsylvania German fraktur.

In addition to the collections housed in the Rare Book Department, the Free Library also features the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, which is the largest lending library of orchestral performance sets in the world. The Library’s Automobile Reference Collection is one of the most extensive public resources of its kind, and the Print and Picture Collection houses roughly half-a-million circulating pictures in the largest public picture lending library in the nation, in addition to thousands of fine art prints, drawings, and photographs. The Free Library also has an extensive special collection devoted to maps.

Many of the items in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s special collections have been digitized and can be viewed online. So, if you are not close enough to visit, you can still benefit from the great offerings!

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