The Beverly Public Library was established in 1855, three years after the Massachusetts Legislature became the first in the nation to authorize cities and towns to expend tax funds to support free public libraries. The Library was the successor to the Social Library, a private subscription library which traced its founding to a collection of books seized by Beverly privateers from a British merchantman during the Revolutionary War. Elizabeth P. Sohier, a trustee of the Beverly Public Library, led the fight to establish the first state library agency in the country, and served as the State Library Commission's first secretary.
The Library first operated from rooms in City Hall. In 1913, the Library moved to its current building on Essex Street. The building was designed by architect Cass Gilbert in the Beaux Arts style. Gilbert was also the architect of the Minnesota State Capitol, the Woolworth Building in New York City and the United States Supreme Court. The Library was renovated and enlarged in 1993.
The Beverly Farms Branch was established in 1886 and moved into its current building in 1916. Bookmobile service was established in 1959. In 1981, the Beverly Public Library joined four other communities in establishing the first shared library computer system in Massachusetts.
Today the Library loans over 280,000 items annually, to almost 27,000 regular borrowers. The Main Library collection consists of over 125,000 books and the Beverly Farms Branch of 22,000 books. In addition, the Library loans magazines, large print books and magazines, talking books for people with visual impairments, books on cassette, video cassettes, and admission passes to selected Boston museums. The Library provides reference materials from electronic databases, an on-line shared catalog containing over 1,000,000 titles, an on-line periodical index and full text service of 1,500 magazine titles. The Library's catalogue and magazine service are available through the Internet to homes, businesses and schools in the City. Patrons may also use the Internet service to search on-line library catalogues world wide and may request items from these libraries through interlibrary loan . The Library further enriches the life of the Beverly community with its art gallery, lectures, concerts, story hours, book discussion groups, and exhibits.