The present state library building, built in 1895 of native granite, is one of the complex of buildings comprising the center of state government in Concord. Flanked by shrubs, it bears the name of the state in Latin on its facade. Aptly titled, it serves all branches of state government as well as all citizens of the state.
The beginnings of the State Library were in 1717 and it is generally considered to be the oldest such institution in the United States. In colonial times, the British government sent over its statutory commands in great folios which were preserved, and moved about as the seat of government changed from one place to another. In 1777 Congress passed a resolution recommending "to the several states to order their statute laws and the additions that may be made thereto to be sent to Congress and to each of the states together with all discoveries and improvements in the arts of war made in such states respectively." This is done today, as in the 18th century.
When the present capitol was completed at Concord, in 1819, the books owned by the State were allotted to a room. To the laws and journals of the Province and State, the public documents of the United States, then small in number, had been added; and volume one of the New Hampshire court reports was just appearing from the press. Four years later, the Legislature of 1823 authorized and appropriated $100 annually, requesting the Governor "to purchase such books for the enlargement of the state library as he may think proper." An act of 1826 provided for the purchase of "one copy of the Journal of the Senate and House of Representatives for each session since the adoption of the present constitution."
By 1828 the modest accommodations had been outgrown and the north side of the state house was made into a library. In 1833 the first regular librarian was appointed, but to serve only during sessions of the Legislature. In 1846 the Secretary of State was made librarian ex officio and the first catalog was printed.
Many towns throughout the state had begun to set up their own libraries, but these were "social" or "parlor" so called and were supported by subscriptions or memberships. There were some that were part of local academies; some were in factories or places of business; but in Peterborough, in 1833, the first Free Public Library in the world to be supported by taxation was established. The library spirit proved to be so compelling that by 1849 a law was passed permitting towns to appropriate money for the purchase of books and the maintenance of a building for the use of its people. New Hampshire, the first state to pass such a law, made libraries sure of some measure of public support.
1866 marked the establishment by Legislative Act of the State Library as a separate department with a librarian, a Board of Trustees, and rooms on the west side of the capitol. In 1889 the first Library Association in the country was incorporated, its purpose to be the promotion of the efficiency and usefulness of libraries to to cultivate fellowship among its members. Two years later a Library Commission was formed, by act of the General Court. With its four members, and the State Librarian an ex officio member, the Commission served to advise libraries and give assistance. They were also permitted to aid in the establishment of free public libraries with state aid, by giving books to the value of $100.