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Darby Library Company records


Held at: Darby Free Library [Contact Us]1001 Main Street, Darby, PA, 19023

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Darby Free Library. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Darby Free Library is one of the oldest public libraries in the United States, and the first cultural institution in Darby, now part of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It was founded as the Darby Library Company in 1743 by a group farmers and merchants, predominantly members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). A subscription library, it was open to any paying subscriber, but not free to the public. John Pearson was elected the first Librarian, Joseph Bonsall, Secretary, and Nathan Gibson, Treasurer. The original twenty-nine subscribers authorized the purchase of forty-five volumes at a cost of 11 Pounds, 10 Shillings, Sterling. John Bartram (1699-1777), the "father of American botany" and a member of Darby Friends Meeting, arranged to purchase the books in London.

Initially, books were kept in the home of the librarian, and then on the second floor of Sipler's Saddle Shop in Darby. In 1866, a property at 10th and Main streets in Darby was purchased, and in 1872 a building was erected at a cost of $8,895.54. The Darby Free Library still occupies that building as of 2014.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, various local organizations merged into the Darby Library Company, namely the Delaware County Society for the Detection of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses, and the Darby Home Protection Society. The Society for the Detection of Horse Thieves was organized in 1827 as a mutual aid society, where subscribers worked together whenever a horse was reported missing to apprehend the thief, turn him over to the authorities, and return the horse to its rightful owner. The Darby Home Protection Society was incorporated in 1887, with the purpose of promoting the moral and intellectual growth of Darby residents and establishing a reading room in the borough.

In 1898, the Darby Library Company became free and open to the public as a condition of receiving a 1,000 book donation from Richard Cook. In 1981, the Delaware County Library System was created to coordinate services to library patrons in the area. The Darby Free Library became one of the twenty-six member libraries in the system. Despite funding challenges in the 1990s and 2000s, the Darby Free Library remains open as of 2014.


Alexandrea Glenn, Patrick Elliot, Paul Bishop, and Jen Parkhurst-Skala. "Darby Free Library Company." Slide presentation for Wayne State University, LIS 6080. Accessed December 17, 2014.

Darby Free Library. "History of Darby Library." Accessed December 17, 2014.

This collection includes Board of Directors and stockholders' minute books, book acquisition and circulation records, financial records, other administrative papers, and various other materials from the Darby Free Library and the Darby Library Company, as well as other organizations that merged with the Darby Library Company, including the Delaware County Society for the Detection of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses, and the Darby Home Protection Society. The collection spans the library's history, from 1743 to the the present, although the majority of materials date from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s.

Notable early records include the following: Bartram, William, 1739-1823. Travels through North & South Carolina (Philadelphia, 1791). Author's copy donated to the Library by William Bartram, includes several extra engravings. A catalogue of books belonging to the Darby Library in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Printed by Robert & William Carr, No. 51, Sansom Street. 1811. [36] p. ; 16 cm and interleaved throughout and two leaves laid in, all with MS. additions to the catalog Acts and proceedings of the Darby Library Company, 1743-1769; 29 leaves of MS. minutes of annual meetings and MS. catalogs of the library's holdings. Minute book and catalogs 1743-1877, with MS. membership lists, and catalogs. Day books, 1873-1881, 2 v. Cash account book 1873-1892, in a blank book from W.F. Murphy's Sons, 339 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. Records from the Delaware County Society for the Detection of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses, 2 books, with MS. and printed constitutions, meeting minutes, and clippings, 1827-1998.

There are additional minute books from the Darby Library Company Board of Directors dating from the 19th century to 2012, Darby Library Company stockholders' minutes from 1828-1897 and 1949-1953, and Darby Home Protection Society minutes, 1920s.

Records of books in the library's collection include accession registers, published and unpublished catalogs, circulation records (listing books by identification number, not title), and a list of books rebound (1903-1910).

Financial records include treasurer's reports, daybooks, receipts and disbursements, paid bills, cancelled checks, stock certificates, and other materials, dating mostly from the 20th century.

There are small amounts of other types of administrative papers, including property records (including deeds and blueprints/plans of the library building), insurance documents, legal papers (including consolidation charters), and correspondence.

The collection also includes some pamphlets about the Darby Library Company and its history from various anniversary celebrations, and a small number of photographs of board members, the library building, and events and activities at the library.

Note: The Darby Free Library local history collection includes several binders of mostly secondary-source materials about the Darby Library Company's history, such as photocopies, narrative histories, newspaper clippings, and color photos of library activities and facilities.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Darby Free Library directly for more information.

Darby Free Library
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Access Restrictions

Some materials are not available to researchers because of their fragile condition. Contact Darby Free Library for information about accessing this collection.

Collection Inventory

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