Philadelphia Libraries

Image: Mercantile Library, 1860s, Source: New York Public Library. 

In Philadelphia the delegation was most impressed by the size and variety of libraries spread throughout the city. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, the public library was a democratic and quintessentially American institution. Kunitake Kume noted that the Philadelphia library, coupled with the Loganian Library, housed 180,000 volumes! The group also learned about the Philadelphia Mercantile Library, a branch that catered their catalog to the city’s merchants and held nearly 30,000 volumes.

The delegates carried the importance of libraries back home with them. Japan’s first public library, the Imperial Library, opened in 1872. Twenty years later, the Japan Library Association (JLA) was created to promote nation-wide library services, much like those found in the United States. Japan’s national library, the National Diet Library, also took inspiration and was organized based on the system used in the U.S. Library of Congress.


Kume, Kunitake. “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe, edited by Chushichi Tsuzuki and R. Jules Young, 94. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511721144.

“National Diet Library.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Accessed 11 January 2022.