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Libraries and Philanthropy – A History Intertwined

San Diego County boasts more than 60 libraries and branches across the region.

Which means for most San Diegans, access to information and educational tools is readily available at our fingertips.

The connection between philanthropy and libraries runs deep. Long ago, free access to books and resources was not always the norm. But support from community leaders and donors quickly changed that.

History

Before public libraries were built following the Revolutionary War, Americans were already looking for avenues to pursue literature. During those times, reading and education often came through literary salons, which were places to discuss art, politics, literature and many of the most pressing topics of the time (much like the Center for Civic Engagement!).

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Notably, these salons played a significant role for women to engage in public dialogue and learning, since they were not allowed equal access in many other formal educational settings.

But it wasn’t until after the Civil War that public libraries took off.

The first free public library supported by tax dollars was founded in 1833 in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

From there, once the idea of public libraries became commonplace, local leaders and philanthropists catalyzed the growth of these institutions.

During the late 19th century, support from philanthropists such as Samuel Tilden, John Passmore Edwards, Henry Tate and Andrew Carnegie helped increase the number of public libraries. In fact, Carnegie alone is responsible for approximately 2,000 libraries in the U.S.

Early Impact

According to research by the American Library Association, students who use libraries achieve higher levels of academic success. In addition, library use enhances other important aspects of everyday life, including youth confidence and information retention.

Students in San Diego Library

Library use enhances important aspects of everyday life, including youth confidence and information retention.

As we seek to close the education gap in San Diego County and create a pathway to prosperity for our local youth, libraries play an integral part in the process.

From preschool-aged children to youth pursuing higher education, all the way to older adults and seniors, our local libraries offer a variety of resources that equip everyone with the tools to learn more and give back to the community.

The San Diego Foundation is committed to supporting these local institutions, and we encourage you to do the same by contributing to one of the following library branches around the region:

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How is your organization seeking to close the education gap for our youth? Share your story in the comments below!

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