People have been borrowing books from public libraries for more than 231 years. Benjamin Franklin, considered the father of lending libraries, opened his own in 1731 in Philadelphia. It was called the Library Company and charged a subscription fee of 40 shillings. In 1790, a library opened in Franklin, Massachusetts with books donated by Franklin.

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie was a firm believer in education and thought that libraries were a simple way to reach everyone. He donated $55 million (more than $1.6 billion in today’s dollars) between 1886 and 1919 to open 2,509 libraries worldwide and 1,679 in the United States. Indiana has the most with 160, and Alaska and Delaware have none. Arizona’s four Carnegie Libraries are in Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott, and Yuma. The Tucson facility, at 200 S. 6th Avenue, opened in 1901 and closed in 1991 and is now the Tucson Children’s Museum.

The Library of Congress, with more than 170 million items, is the largest library in the United States, however it is not a lending library. Each working day the Library receives approximately 15,000 items and adds more than 10,000 of those to its collections.

In the 1800s, Melvil Dewey believed that legible handwriting was a must for library card catalogs and, while pioneering his Dewey Decimal System for cataloging books, he promoted the “Librarian Hand” and the practice was used until typewriters came into use.

Pima County Library system, with the Joel D. Valdez main library at 101 North Stone, has 27 branch libraries and a Bookmobile.

Bookmobiles began delivering books in the early 1900s to not only rural areas but to inner-city folks as well. “The Fascinating History of Bookmobiles,” at, has 15 vintage photos of traveling libraries in the United States.

What if you can’t find the material you need at a local library? Check to see which libraries, anywhere in the world, might have the book you need. WorldCat is a library catalog that itemizes the collections of 15,637 libraries in 107 countries. The subscribing member libraries collectively maintain WorldCat’s database. On the site, search the book or subject. It will give the libraries that have the material. Local libraries can order books, but others may need to be read at the location.

Often it is a surprise where you will find the book. Example: I type in Historical Floods in New England and up comes six locations: Phoenix, San Diego, El Paso, and Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Socorro, NM libraries. Strangely, no libraries in New England.

In a future column I will write about libraries that are often overlooked resources. But as October is National Book Month, I remind readers that Southern Arizona Genealogy Society has a collection of more than 3,500 books, maps, and periodicals to aid family research. The Green Valley – Sahuarita Genealogy Library is in the La Posada Shoppes, open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to noon.

“Learning history can put our ancestors in a time and place.”

Becky McCreary is a member of Southern Arizona Genealogy Society and teaches “Storytellers: Writing family stories.” Genealogy Today articles are archived at The column may not be reprinted without the written consent of the author.