"I cannot live without books; but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object." (APS President Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, June 10, 1815 )


A stroll through historic Philadelphia often brings passersby to American Philosophical Society’s Library Hall, home of a world-renowned collection of manuscripts, periodicals, images, and audio-visual recordings. Housing the library of the oldest learned society in the United States founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, this building seems to have graced the city with its majestic presence for centuries. Diving into Library Hall’s history reveals a surprising tale, intricately linked with Philadelphia’s urban transformations. Built only sixty years ago, Library Hall is the third significant construction to occupy this lot, after the Library Company, the first North-American subscription library, and the Drexel Building, one of Philadelphia’s tallest buildings in the late 1880s.

This digital exhibition invites you to explore the story of Library Hall, showcasing the different phases of its construction and the historical context in which this building came to life. The above StoryMap allows us to track the movement of the Library as it searched for permanent space. The galleries below offer the opportunity for further exploration of the building's rich history.


Each of these galleries represents a different moment in the history of the Library at the American Philosophical Society.