Free Library of Philadephia

Free Library of Philadelphia


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 first location for the Library was three cramped rooms in City Hall. On February 11, 1895, the Library was moved to the old Concert Hall, 1217-1221 Chestnut Street. Library officials, however, criticized their new home as “an entirely unsuitable building, where its work is done in unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded quarters, temporary make-shifts.” These unpopular quarters were occupied until December 1, 1910, when the Library was moved yet again, to the northeast corner of 13th and Locust Streets.

On June 2, 1927, the massive Central Library opened for service at its present location on Logan Square. The building had been in the planning stages since 1911; however, various obstacles, including World War I, halted progress on the building. It now serves as the main library and administrative headquarters for the Free Library of Philadelphia system.

Over the years, numerous neighborhood libraries have been added to the Free Library system, many of them funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who donated $1.5 million for neighborhood library construction in 1903. Today, the Free Library is composed of Parkway Central Library, three large regional libraries, 49 neighborhood libraries, community Hot Spots, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the Regional Research and Operations Center, and the Rosenbach.

Learn More about Central Library

For an in-depth look at the Library’s past, spend some time with our detailed account. You can also read about the architects who designed the structure. Or, if you believe pictures are truly worth a thousand words, check out our collection of more than 300 historical photographs. You can even follow the events on a timeline or experience a digitized version of our 75th Anniversary Exhibit.



Audio June 11 2024

All About Books: Katy Conneely, Dublin City FM on the 2024 Dublin Literary Award Ceremony

In her 'All About Books' podcast Katy Conneely attends the Winning Ceremony of the 2024 Dublin Literary Award on 23rd May 2024 and provides some highlights of the ceremony
Video June 5 2024

2024 Dublin Literary Award Winners Mircea Cărtărescu and Sean Cotter In Conversation

Mircea Cărtărescu and Sean Cotter, winners of the 2024 Dublin Literary Award take an in-depth look at the winning title, Solenoid with Alex Clarke as part of International Literature Festival Dublin.
Video May 31 2024

Dublin Literary Award 2024 Winner Announcements Highlights

Romanian author Mircea Cărtărescu and translator Sean Cotter have been announced as winners of the 2024 Dublin Literary Award on Thursday 23rd of May, for the novel Solenoid.
Video May 8 2024

Alexis Wright – Praiseworthy Q&A

Q&A with Alexis Wright, one of the six shortlisted authors for the 2024 Dublin Literary Award in which she discusses her passion for libraries and explores the influences behind her novel Praiseworthy


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