Our History

History of Darby Library

On the tenth day of March 1743, a group of Quaker farmers and merchants residing in ‘the village of Darby, Province of Pennsylvania“, met to organize the area’s first cultural institution. This institution was named the Darby Library Company. On that day, twenty-nine townsmen signed an article of agreement founding one of America’s first public libraries.

An unrecorded amount of money was subscribed by the organizers for the purchase of books and forty-five volumes at a cost of 11 Pounds, 10 Shillings, Sterling were purchased. Forty-three of those original volumes are on display at the Darby Free Library.

John Pearson was elected the first Librarian, Joseph Bonsall, Secretary, and Nathan Gibson, Treasurer. With the assistance of botanist, John Bartram, a member of the Darby Friend Meeting, arrangements were completed to purchase the books in London. Funds for the purchase were transferred in the form of a bill of exchange to Lawrence Williams, to be paid on sight to Peter Collison of London.

On the 14th of April 1743, the original Library Company Minutes (which still exist today) recorded a letter to Peter Collison which was written by John Bonsall. We quote it part:

‘There is a small number of us in Darby near Philadelphia who have formed ourselves into a company in order to purchase for our use a small set of books, with well-grounded expectations of our number increasing in a little time, and being advised by our friend and neighbor, John Bartram, to apply to three to purchase these books , and in confidence of thy good disposition from the character her gives of thee to encourage such a decision we have thought fit there upon to send to and desire thee to do such an office of kindness for us…”

Peter Collison apparently merited the confidence place in him, for the shipment of books arrived in Darby in November of that same year. Many of those original 45 volumes are on display in the Darby Free Library today.

In the early days of the Library Company, books were kept in the home of the Librarian. Borrowers of books were required to reimburse the library for one and one-half times the value of each volume not returned. Late fines ranged from 3 to 6 pence, depending on the value of the book. Company meetings were held in various members homes at “two o’clock in the afternoon.”

In the 1866 the corner property at 10th and Main was purchased and in 1872 the present building was erected with funds raised by local friends and borrowers. Construction costs were $8,895.54

The Original Collection:

Through the interest of John Bartram [Botanist], his friend, Peter Collinson, of London, procured and shipped to the Library it’s first collection of books. Some 43 volumes, at the cost of £ ll-10s Sterling or £ 25-19s-d. Pennsylvania currency.

These books were received and examined at a Meeting of the Library Company held November 5, 1743, being as follows:

1 Vol. 1738 The Gentleman Instructed 1 Vol. 1729 Puffendorf’s Of the Law of Nature and Nations 8 Vol. 1736 * The Universal Spectator 8 Vol. 1741 The Turkish Spy 2 Vol. 1718 Tourneforte’s- A Voyage into the Levant 1 Vol. 1737 Whiston’s- A New Theory of the Earth 1 Vol. 1736 Addison’s Travels 1 Vol. 1736 Barclay’s Apology 1 Vol. 1738 Locke- Some Thoughts Concerning Education 1 Vol. 1738 Religion of Nature Delineated 1 Vol. 1741 Gordan’s Geographical Grammar 1 Vol. 1743 Sherlock- A Practical Discouse Concerning Death 1 Vol. 1717 Whiston- Astronomical Principles of Religion 1 Vol. 1740 Maundrel- A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem 1 Vol. 1740 * Dycke’s New English Dictionary 1 Vol. 1733 Tull- The Horse-Hoing Husbandry 1 Vol. 1736 Blackmore- Creation, a Philosophical Poem 3 Vol. 1735 The Independent Whig 1 Vol. 1738 Wood’s Institute of the Laws of England 2 Vol. 1730 Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained 2 Vol. 1702 Puffendorf- The compleat History of Sweden 2 Vol. 1736 Raleigh- The History of the World 2 Vol. 1743 Lediard- The Life of the Duke of Marlborough These books, with the exception of six of the eight volumes of the Universal Spectator, and Dycke’s New English Dictionary, are still in the possession of the Library.

Today, over 260 years later, the Library contains over 20,000 volumes of fiction, non-fiction and reference books, plus audio, DVD and video tapes. Information is also accessible through the Internet. Additionally, the Library sponsors programs for children and adults throughout the year. The Darby Library is a member of the Delaware County Library System. With this affiliation, our patrons are able to access books from all over Delaware County.
You can keep the second oldest library in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania operating into the future by volunteering your time or by contributing financially. Please see our volunteering page for up-to-date ways for you to contribute.