From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A public library (also called circulating library) is a library which is accessible by the public and is generally funded from public sources (such as tax money) and may be operated by civil servants. Taxing bodies for public libraries may be at any level from local to national central government level.
Public libraries exist in most nations of the world and are often considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population. Public libraries are distinct from research libraries, school libraries, or other special libraries in that their mandate is to serve the public's information needs generally (rather than serve a particular school, institution, or research population), as well as offering materials for general entertainment and leisure purposes. Public libraries typically are lending libraries, allowing users to take books and other materials off the premises temporarily; they also have non-circulating reference collections. Public libraries typically focus on popular materials such as popular fiction and movies, as well as educational and nonfiction materials of interest to the general public; computer and internet access is also often offered.
The earliest public library in England was established at the London Guildhall in 1425.
In the early years of the 17th century, many famous collegiate and town libraries were founded throughout the country. Francis Trigge Chained Library of St. Wulfram's Church, Grantham, Lincolnshire was founded in 1598 by the rector of nearby Welbourne. Norwich City library was established in 1608 (six years after Thomas Bodley founded the Bodleian Library, which was open to the "whole republic of the learned" and 145 years before the foundation of the British Museum), and Chetham's Library in Manchester, which claims to be the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, opened in 1653. Other early town libraries of the UK include those of Ipswich (1612), Bristol (founded in 1613 and opened in 1615), and Leicester (1632). Shrewsbury School also opened its library to townsfolk.
In Bristol, an early library that allowed access to the public was that of the Kalendars or Kalendaries, a brotherhood of clergy and laity who were attached to the Church of All-Hallowen or All Saints. Records show that in 1464, provision was made for a library to be erected in the house of the Kalendars, and reference is made to a deed of that date by which it was "appointed that all who wish to enter for the sake of instruction shall have 'free access and recess' at certain times".