Boston Public Library, founded in 1848, chiefly through the gift of Joshua Bates, and opened to the public in 1854. It is the oldest free public city library supported by taxation in the world and the first to allow its patrons to borrow books and other materials. Its present building on Copley Square, designed by McKim, Mead, and White, was completed in 1895 and contains noncirculating research and reference materials. The library opened the first room exclusively designated for children in 1895. Its main hall is decorated with murals by Puvis de Chavannes. Other rooms have murals by Edwin Austin Abbey and John Singer Sargent. The library also maintains more than two dozen neighborhood branches. By the early 21st cent., the Boston Library held more than six million volumes and more than a million rare books and manuscripts; its special collections include maps, musical scores, and prints; Spanish and Portuguese literature; histories of printing, the theater, and the women's rights movement; the libraries of John Adams and Nathaniel Bowditch; and the Wiggin collection of paintings and etchings. The library opened a new wing designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee in 1973; it houses its circulating collections.
See W. M. Whitehill, Boston Public Library: A Centennial History (1956).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.