In 1757 The Library Company of Burlington was chartered by British monarch King George II for founder Thomas Rodman and John Reading as chief officer. It is the oldest library in continuous operation in New Jersey, and has the distinction of being the seventh oldest in the United States. The founding members paid both a membership fee to join and annual dues, and donated over 700 of their own books to start the Library. The Library Company of Burlington was the first library in the U.S. to publish a catalogue of books (1758).
Originally the library was housed in a rented room in the home of Thomas Rodman on High Street. The first circulated book was The Invisible Spy, borrowed by Thomas Robinson. The last Royal Governor of New Jersey, William Franklin (son of patriot Benjamin Franklin) was a library patron during his tenure as royal governor, beginning in 1763.
The library moved several times, always renting rooms in local houses, before acquiring its own land and building in 1789. Prominent resident Joseph Bloomfield donated land near the southeast corner of High Street and East Broad Street (Library Street) for the construction of a building solely to house the Library’s collections. This wooden structure was the first library building in the state, and was in continuous use until 1864.
Through the vision and generosity of James Sterling and the efforts of the citizens of Burlington, a new library building opened on West Union Street in 1864. As a Director of the Library for many decades and the head of its Building Committee, Sterling saw the need for a new facility to replace the crowded older building. He bequeathed $5000 to the Library on the provision that a new library building be obtained - bought or built - within 2 years of his death. The citizens of Burlington, including Mrs. Julia Grant, wife of General Ulysses S. Grant, rallied around the institution. A suitable property was purchased, plans were drawn, and subscriptions and fundraisers were organized to help pay for construction of the beautiful brownstone structure which still houses our collections.
In 1957, the Library Company expanded this building, and the Children’s Room was added behind the original 1864 room.
Today, the library continues its uninterrupted service to the public, serving patrons with historical volumes dating back as far as 1521, current bestsellers, CDs, DVDs, fast broadband worldwide web access workstations, and personalized service.