A free public library seems like such a natural idea, it’s hard to believe that someone had to come up with it first. For Massachusetts and the United States, it took the generosity of founding father, Ben Franklin, who donated more than 100 precious volumes to the town named in his honor. And it took the shared wisdom of the townspeople, who voted to make the books available to any resident to borrow without charge, to make that first free, public, lending library a reality.
To celebrate that fact and the state’s abiding love for books and learning, local historian, Alan Earls, supported by a grant from the MetroWest Visitor’s Bureau, has created what he has calls the Ben Franklin Library Trail. He said his aim is to call attention to those first books, still proudly residing in the Franklin Public Library (but no longer available for borrowing), the many other riches of the Franklin library; as well as historic libraries of the past and present across the state.
“Really, the point is to appreciate all of the state’s libraries, which often boast of wonderful architecture and art treasures, books, historical treasures, and much more,” he said. The Franklin Public Library is exhibit A, he says, with a modern collection of books, online resources, and even “things” that can be borrowed as well as amazing, classically inspired murals and landscape paintings dating back more than a century.
Earls cautions that the “trail” is not a literal route – like the famous Freedom Trail in Boston – but rather a listing of historic libraries and library sites, worth visiting or knowing about. The website lists many other important libraries, including a large batch of public libraries funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, intended to be ‘the people’s universities.’
The Ben Franklin Library ‘Trail’ takes us through an impressive selection of libraries that hold a number of “first” distinctions in Massachusetts, noted Franklin Library Director Felicia Oti. “The stories of how they came to be are as compelling as the buildings that house them; some tax-supported and others established through philanthropic giving,” she added
“The Ben Franklin Library Trail is a must for bibliophiles as it leads them to discover other “firsts” around the state,” said Monique Doyle, a retired educator and former Franklin Library board member.
“The citizens of Massachusetts are proud of their libraries,” Doyle said. “Following The Ben Franklin Library Trail will give them greater insight into how libraries have grown to accommodate populations from the Founding Fathers and their struggles to today’s modern offerings of technology in its many forms,” she added.
One of the libraries on the Trail’s “top ten” is Sturgis Library, located, library director Lucy Loomis explained, in Barnstable Village, which is in the Town of Barnstable and in the County of Barnstable! Her library made the list because it is housed in the oldest building housing a library in the United States, a former home and former meeting house dating to the late 1600s. However, she noted, like many other libraries in the state, there is much more to the story. In addition to a healthy collection of books and other typical library offerings, Loomis said Sturgis Library also boasts records and artifacts that cover most of the history of Cape Cod as well as the maritime world beyond – and genealogical records, too, she noted.
Having a trail that brings more visibility to her library and others around the state is “Just great,” she said.
“Earls has done a remarkable job putting together an inspiring collection of historic ‘firsts’ in Massachusetts and the nation,” Oti added.
“This ‘Trail” exemplifies how and why libraries remain firmly rooted in their communities and affirms the enduring values of stewardship, service, intellectual freedom, literacy and learning, equity of access to recorded knowledge and information, democracy, and the greater good,” Oti added.