The Public Library of Phoenixville began its existence in 1896 when a group of prominent citizens took advantage of a law passed by Pennsylvania legislators making it legal for school districts to own and operate public libraries. At the time there were no libraries affiliated with the public schools. The school Directors agreed to foster a public library, which was called the Public Library of the Phoenixville School District. A small collection of books from the Young Men’s Literary Union (founded by Reverend Joseph F. Jannison a very public spirited citizen) a private subscription Library, set up in the mid 1850’s, formed the core collection of the new Library, which was housed in a succession of rented buildings. Prior to the establishment of the Literary Union, a community library was formed in 1843 called the Phoenixville Library Company. The Company eventually merged with the Literary Union and the Public Library of the Phoenixville School District.
In 1901, the Library trustees, who had been appointed by the school Directors, contacted Andrew Carnegie, famed steel magnate and philanthropist, who was then actively engaged in bestowing Library buildings on worthy communities in the United States and Scotland. Carnegie agreed to supply a town Library and sent architect’s plans and $20,000. The school Directors purchased a lot at Second Avenue and Main Streets. The new building of Avondale Stone and Indiana Limestone with a high covered ceiling was opened to a grateful public in September 1902. Miss Elmira W. Pennypacker was appointed as the first Director in the new public library building.
The basement, originally meant only for storage, was refurbished as the Children’s Library with its own access in the 1920’s. Later, the upstairs Library was remodeled.
The school district was enlarged to include the adjacent Townships of Schuylkill and East Pikeland, becoming the Phoenixville Area School District, in the 1950’s. Funds from these Townships were included in the support of the Library and residents of the entire school district received free Library service. Other area residents paid a modest $5.00 per family to use the Library.
The State Library of Pennsylvania provided funds in the 1960’s. This money was tied to an incentive plan, which required the Library to hire a professional librarian and expand its collection to 1.5 books per capita.
In 1978, the Library joined the Chester County Library System, a federated system of 18 libraries. It had been participating in activities for a number of years, including interlibrary loans, central book purchasing and daily delivery services. The 1978 contract with Chester County provided $1 per capita annually (close to $25,000) for the Library’s official service area. The county contract also opened the Library to free service for all who lived, worked, owned property or attended school in the county.
An addition was added to the Library in 1987, to improve the collection and seating and provide for handicapped access. This addition also included new circulation desk areas, additional offices and a Community Room available for programs and exhibits.
Library automation was established in the mid 1990’s with the addition of a self-contained computerized card catalogue. The old card catalogue and the shelf list were eliminated. The Internet and CD-ROMs were also introduced as new and unique search tools for access to information. In 1999, the Library came on-line with the Chester County Public Library System. The Library also established a Web Page with a link to the Library System’s Page. Renovations of the Children’s Library, a new Technical Processing Department, two Public Computer Centers, a Literacy Education Center/meeting room, a Friends of The Library Book Center and exterior French Drain and water vapor barrier were added in 2000/2001. This was made possible with individual contributions a Pennsylvania State Keystone Grant, public, private and foundation donations.
Since 1902, the collection has grown to over 75,000. Circulation of the collection has more than doubled from the 1970’s to the present day, making the Phoenixville Public Library the third largest circulating collection in the Chester County Library System. The Library’s children’s program has grown to be the second largest in the Library System. Carnegie’s goal was to provide information access for the intellectual and educational development of citizens through libraries. Phoenixville Public Library Trustees have continued to support this goal for more than 100 years since his gift to the community of Phoenixville.