The mission of the Boston Public Library is to preserve and provide access to the historical record of our society and to serve the cultural, educational and informational needs of the people of the City and the Commonwealth. The Library serves as a municipal public library, a research library of "Last Recourse" for the Commonwealth, a regional public library headquarters, a host library for an academic and research library consortium, and a central site for a metropolitan area automated network.
Through its Research Library Services Program, the Library seeks to acquire, make available, preserve, and service significant research materials in all fields of knowledge. Based on subject strengths, these resources are made available for multi-purpose use on local, state, and national levels. In order to ensure that highly specialized research collections and information are available, the Library maintains professionally skilled staff and in-depth resources in a variety of fields.
Through its Community Services Program, the Library seeks to respond to the constantly changing library and information needs of the community by providing user-oriented services and resources, broad collections of circulating materials, current and back issues of popular periodicals, and rapid information and reference services. This Program also provides advice, assistance, and support for users; programs and exhibits to meet the developmental, cultural, and informational needs of the community; and outreach activities.
Founded in 1848, by an act of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts, the Boston Public Library (BPL) was the first large free municipal library in the United States. The Boston Public Library's first building of its own was a former schoolhouse located on Mason Street that was opened to the public on March 20, 1854. The Library's collections approximated 16,000 volumes, and it was obvious from the day the doors were first opened that the quarters were inadequate. In December of that same year the Library's Commissioners were authorized to locate a new building upon a lot on Boylston Street. The present Copley Square location has been home to the Library since 1895, when architect Charles Follen McKim completed his "palace for the people."
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Library worked vigorously to develop and expand its branch library system. Viewed as a means to extend its presence throughout the city, the branch system evolved from an idea in 1867 to a reality in 1870, when the first Branch Library in the United States was opened in East Boston. Between 1872 and 1900, twenty-one more Branches began serving communities throughout Boston's diverse neighborhoods. In 1972 the Library expanded its Copley Square location with the opening of an addition designed by Philip Johnson. Today, the McKim building houses the BPL's vast research collection and the Johnson building holds the circulating collection of the general library and serves as headquarters for the Boston Public Library's 26 branch libraries.
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