The simple yet welcoming stone structure standing at 5418 Germantown Avenue has been the home of the Friends Free Library since 1874. One of the oldest public libraries in the country, its real history began almost three decades earlier during a time when the surrounding neighborhood of millworkers had no real free access to the written word. Begun by the Germantown Meeting's School Committee in 1845, the original Free Library collection of 41 titles was first housed in the School and later the woman's cloakroom of the Meeting House. Included among the original books were such titles as Piety Promoted
, The Journal of George Fox
and Penn's Rise and Progress of the People Called Quakers
At this time, the concept of a free and public library with books on science, travel and natural history was a new and untested one considered quite radical by some of our British peers as just " a typical piece of American 'tomfoolery and 'extravagance.'" In spite of critics predictions that by the "end of the year" there would not" be a book on the shelves", these limited volumes coupled with a gift of $45, allowed the library to expand its collection to 5,634 books by the time it moved to its current location on Germantown Avenue.
Many things have changed since that day in 1874. The collection now stands at 50,000 volumes and includes several electronic databases as well as many periodical and newspaper subscriptions. The library has its own website which hosts numerous online databases including Access Pa and Power Library which provide the GFS and Germantown communities with access to a vast array of volumes, newspapers and journals across the state. Nestled now among the tall windows, the charming balcony and the well used wooden library tables are modern computer stations filled with students accessing the latest information on the internet. Much has changed over the years, but the Friends Free Library remains committed to preserving and growing this valuable resource for both the school and the community of Germantown.