The library concept in Saint John goes back at least as early as 1811, with the formation of the Saint John Society Library, followed by the Mechanics Institute formed in 1839. However, these were all subscription libraries for those who could afford the fee and who could probably provide at least 2 references, one of whom had to be a member of Clergy. In the 1870s, however, citizens in Saint John began to push for a free public library, open to everyone free of charge. Among its leading advocates was Colonel James Domville, which led the campaign, acquiring books and successfully proposing a Trust under the City of Saint John’s control. On May 18th, 1883, the library opened on the Charlotte Street end of City Market, with 2,285 books and a paid custodian.
Just two years later, in 1885, the library was moved to the Masonic Hall on Germain Street. A search then began for a more proper and permanent location. In those days, the great American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, was actively assisting communities across the continent and abroad in building public libraries for their citizens. Negotiations were pursued diligently between the Mayor’s office and Carnegie’s secretary, leading to a $50,000.00 grant from Mr. Carnegie and a commitment from the City to pay at least $5,000.00 annually to support the Library. Consequently, in 1904, the Library moved into its new home, which still stands across from the Saint John Law Courts and houses the Saint John Arts Centre.
In the 1960s, the Legislative Assembly passed the Libraries Act of 1967, a part of the Equal Opportunity Program. When this happened, the Saint John Free Public Library became a part of a Regional Library system, one of five established in the Province, and has continued to play a major role as the Central Resource Library for the Fundy Region of Southwest New Brunswick. The library also expanded with two community branches, the West Branch in 1967 and the East Branch in 1968.In the 1970’s, the Library Board established a Building Committee aimed to garner support and action for a new library. Not too long thereafter, the Common Council of the day became interested in rejuvenating the Market Slip area, which had become largely a derelict collection of vacated warehouses. It was recognized that a public component would be attractive to potential funding partners, and the Library Board seized the opporunity. Partners signed on: our City, our Province, our Federal Government, and Developer Patrick Rocca, possibly making it one of the earliest PPP arrangements. The deal was struck on October 14, 1980, and on May 17, 1983, the Saint John Free Public Library officially opened its new location in Market Square.