In 1731, Benjamin Franklin along with his cronies established the nation’s first successful lending library and cultural institution. Because access to books was limited, Franklin convinced members of his “society of mutual improvement” to combine their recourses to purchase books. By the 1780s the collection consisted of over 1,000 books. The LCP briefly functioned as the Library of Congress when the national government was seated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although the LCP was primarily concerned with the circulation of books, the institution managed to accrue an extensive collection of manuscripts, broadsides, ephemera, prints, photographs, and works of art.
LCP’s African Americana collection is perhaps one of the strongest in the country. Made up of mostly books, pamphlets, newspapers, and periodicals, the collection documents the exploration of Africa, slavery in the United States and freedmen in Philadelphia.The collection ranges in date from the mid 16th century into the early years of the 20th century.
Today, LCP is a non-circulating independent research library. Professors, college and high school students, and members of the general public use LCP’s expansive collection. “Readers” are able to search LCP’s collection through WolfPAC, an online catalog. The collection includes over 160,000 items comprised of prints, photographs, drawings and manuscripts. Catalogers use “high cataloging standards” to describe items in the collection. Conservators, digitization specialist, curators and volunteers manage the 5 floors of closed stacks. “Collecting priorities” are items relating to particular subject areas of interest such as Afro-Americana, visual culture, popular medicine, women’s history, and early American economy and society. Collections are acquired with a “modest” budget or by donation.