Ben Franklin wasn’t just instrumental in forming the Library Company of Philadelphia. He also had a hand in developing the State Library of Pennsylvania as well. In 1745, the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly ordered Franklin to purchase statues, maps, and other items from England to use in the Assembly room. These items, along with additional items purchased later in the 1700s, were used to start the State Library and can still be found in the library collection.
The library originated in Philadelphia however, because of Revolutionary War battles and British invasions, it was moved around to Easton, Lancaster, and eventually to Harrisburg when that city became the state capital in 1810. The State Library became a part of the Department of Public Instruction, now the Department of Education, in 1923.
Today the State Library is a public library that also serves all branches of state government. The library has over 3,500,000 items in its general collection of books, journals, maps, microfilm, and microfiche. The Law and Government Documents Library in the State Library contains exclusive legal holdings from all 50 states, and is the Regional Federal Depository. The library also has a large collection of genealogy and local history holdings — there are approximately 31,000 titles on microfilm and microfiche, including PA Census data from the late 1700s and PA family histories. The library also has a large collection of PA newspapers on microfilm and hard copy dating back to the 1700s. In addition to old newspapers, it subscribes to 125 current newspapers, including all of the major daily papers and at least one paper from each county in the state. Finally, the rare books collection houses books that date back to 1493, and includes the original items purchased for the Assembly. These original items include the Assembly Bible that was used to swear in speakers and Franklin’s famous Poor Richard’s Almanac.
This amazing gem of current and past PA history is open for the public. Tours are also available. For more information about the State Library of Pennsylvania, click here.