I listened to the first episode of Liz Covart’s podcast Ben Franklin’s World, in which she interviewed James N. Green, the Librarian from the Library Company of Philadelphia. Green discussed the history of the Library Company. He spoke of how when Ben Franklin first came to Philadelphia, there weren’t many books. Ben Franklin and the rest of the Junto, inspired by a desire to learn, created a library with their own books, and eventually established a system where people could pay a subscription for membership to the library, with which they were allowed to borrow books. Eventually, this evolved into a system where even people without a subscription could check out books by leaving a deposit with the library. This laid the foundation for successful lending libraries in the United States.
This podcast revealed to me what I now consider to be an institution with great significance to American history. Green said that Benjamin Franklin credited subscription libraries, which followed the model of the Library Company of Philadelphia, with inspiring Americans with the kinds of characteristics that allowed them to revolt against Britain. Also, Green mentioned that all the kinds of books that helped to inspire the founding fathers were at the Library. This is a prime example of the importance of media in early American History. I think that while many Americans are familiar with the events and ideals of the American Revolution, not everyone is fully aware of how people came to realize these ideals. The organization, and dissemination, of the medium of books was a part of the spread of these ideals. As we learned in class, printed books were expensive during this time period. So I think that a lending library, something that could enable access to these books, and the ideas that they contained, to the general public, was especially important.
I got to learn a little bit more about Franklin’s personality by listening to this podcast. Covart and Green discussed how proud Franklin was of the Library Company. Green noted how lofty Franklin’s claims of the Library Company inspiring the Revolution were. I agree; I think he must have had a lot of pride to make that kind of claim, and maybe even a little bit of arrogance. And yet Green also said that Franklin wanted to be recognized as part of the group that created the library, rather than take credit for it as an individual, despite the fact that he was one who was really behind its success. So at the same time, this showed a kind of humility. It seems like somewhat of a dichotomy, but I do not believe the two feelings were necessarily incompatible, especially in a man as interesting as Franklin. I believe he took pride in being part of this group; he was, in a manner of speaking, a team player.
As lofty of as his claims may have been, I believe in the importance of this library. My appreciation for Benjamin Franklin has increased even further after listening to this podcast, because I’ve learned of another way in which he was critical to the American Revolution. I always took libraries for granted, but I had never considered some of the potential problems of lending books that were highlighted in the podcast (which essentially concerned people not returning them). Franklin provided innovative solutions to these problems. And although, as Green mentioned, public libraries today are structured somewhat differently than a subscription library like the Library Company of Philadelphia, it is apparent from this podcast that it was part of the foundation for the systems to come.