What’s the oldest free public library in North America?

1 Answer 1


This article provides a couple of options, depending on your exact definitions of "oldest," "free," "public," and "library." There is not a complete consensus. Note that the source for many of these is the library's own website, so ymmv.

The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded 1731: first subscription library (aka, membership dues), but did allow borrowing books for free.

The Darby Library, founded 1743: the oldest library in continuous service, but was a subscription library until the late 1800s.

The Redwood Library and Athenæum, founded 1746: oldest library building continuously in use; originally a subscription library.

The Library Company of Burlington, founded 1757: originally a subscription library, but was the first to construct a library building, in 1789.

The Franklin Public Library, founded 1790: originally a collection of books donated to a town by Ben Franklin and lent to citizens free of charge.

The Scoville Memorial Library, founded 1803: the first library to be open to the public free of charge.

The Peterborough Town Library, founded 1833: the oldest free tax-supported public library.

The Boston Public Library, founded 1844: first publicly supported free municipal library.


The Sturgiss Library: oldest building that currently houses a library, built 1644--however, the library itself is newer.

  • I love how nitpicky this answer is!
    – CJ Sheu
    Jul 20, 2018 at 2:24
  • @CJSheu Gotta anticipate the commenters ;-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 15, 2022 at 17:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.