The Boston Public Library was established in 1848. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in America. It was also the first public library to allow people to borrow books and other materials. The Boston Public Library is also the library of last resort of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; all adult residents of the state are entitled to borrowing and research privileges.
The library was initially located in a former schoolhouse located on Mason Street, and was opened to the public on March 20, 1854. Later that year, the construction of a new building was authorized by the Library Commission, to be located at the corner of Boylston Street and Dartmouth Street on Copley Square. Charles Follen McKim, of the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White, was engaged to design the new building, which opened in 1895. This building included a children's room, the first in the nation, a sculpture garden, and large, elaborate murals by John Singer Sargent.
A modernist addition designed by Philip Johnson was completed in 1972; the Johnson Building now houses the circulating collection, while the research library is located in the McKim Building.
The main branch is located on Boylston Street in Boston. It is the home of several large collections, including first edition folios by William Shakespeare, and the personal library of John Adams.
The pediment of the main building has three inscriptions, one on each face, which read:
- MDCCCLII founded through the munificence and public spirit of citizens / The public library of the city of Boston built by the people and dedicated to the advancement of learning A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII / The commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty
The last quotation has been attributed to the library's Board of Trustees.
Another inscription, over the main entrance, reads: FREE TO ALL.
One of the features that the Boston Public Library offered first is Free Wi-Fi wireless internet . It is offered throughout the entire library giving access to anyone who has wireless enabled laptop to access the Internet.