Firsts (library-related trivia)

  • Bookmobile

In 1905, the Hagerstown (Md.) Public Library, now part of the Washington County Free Library, began the first public library service on wheels as a horse-drawn book wagon designed by Mary Lemist Titcomb, head of the library.

  • Card Catalog

Until the eighteenth century, when French revolutionaries took inventory of French libraries on the backs of confiscated playing cards, library catalogs were merely lists written or printed in books. In 1840, Harvard College Librarian Thaddeus William Harris proposed a catalog of “every work in the library” to be organized on slips of paper to better help the staff keep track of the holdings. This was the first mention of a card catalog in the United States. -- Source, 852: Rare - Harvard, It's in the Cards from Et Seq. The Harvard Law School Library Blog, October 2008.

  • Children's Room

In 1890, the Public Library of Brookline set aside an unused room in its basement for a children's reading-room. In 1893 the Minneapolis Public Library fitted up a library for children. In 1894 the Cambridge Public Library opened a reading-room and the Denver Public Library a circulating library for children. In 1895 Boston, Omaha, Seattle, New Haven and San Francisco, all opened either circulating libraries or reading-rooms for children, and in 1896 Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, Everett (Mass.) and Kalamazoo (Mich.) followed suit. -- Source, "The Work for Children in Free Libraries," by Mary Wright Plummer. Library Journal, 1897, p. 679. View the the entire Library Work with Children bibliography. More details on the Pittsburgh library and Francis Jenkins Olcott's achievements in establishing children's librarianship can be found in the February 2011 Pittsburgh Magazine article, "The Carnegie Library," by Rick Sebak. Sebak also briefly mentions the juvenile library established in West Cambridge by Dr. Ebenezer Learned, a physician in Hopkington, N.H. in 1835.

  • Drive-Through Service Windows

In 1950, the first drive-through windows are established for book returns at Cincinnati's Public Library.

  • Presidential Library

The first presidential library, the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Library, opens in Fremont, Ohio, in 1916.

  • Public Library

There are three generally accepted answers for this question:

1. The Library Company of Philadelphia, which was founded in November 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. The Library Company began as a subscription library, supported by members.

2. A library in Peterborough, New Hampshire, now the Peterborough Town Library opened in 1833, is considered to be the first modern public library. According to the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, it was the first institution founded by a municipality with the explicit purpose of establishing a free library open to all classes of the community and supported by public funds. The Library and the town of Peterborough celebrated 175 years of library service in April 2008.

3. The Boston Public Library (BPL) was the first large free municipal library in the United States, founded in 1848, by an act of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts.

The Library History Buff provides a longer explanation of the nuances of the enabling legislation in both New Hampshire and Boston.

  • Record Collection

1914 - First record collection in St. Paul, Minnesota, but the first report of a circulating collection is 1923 in the Springfield (Mass.) Public Library. The reference for both is American Library and Book Trade Annual, 1960. p. 179.

  • RFID Use

1999 - Rockefeller University Library, New York, and Farmington Community Library, Michigan. The reference is "The State of RFID Applications in Libraries," by Jay Singh, Navjit Brar, and Carmen Fong. Information Technology and Libraries, Vol. 25, no. 1, March 2006, p. 24-32.

  • Separate Academic Library

1840, University of South Carolina, followed by Harvard College in 1841. Source: Library History Buff Blog, "First Separate Academic Library Buildings in US."

  • Story Hour

1882 - Caroline Hewins initiated the story hour (along with a children's collection) at the Hartford (Conn.) Young Men's Institute, a private subscription association that was the predecessor to the Hartford Public Library.

  • Woman President of ALA

1911 - Theresa West Elmendorf