The Erie Public Library was established in 1897, the first in Pennsylvania to be organized under the Free Library Act of 1895, providing that public libraries could be established under school district auspices. The formal dedication of the building at 27 South Park Row took place on February 16, 1899.The building’s original tenants were the Erie School District’s administrative offices, the Public Museum, the Public Library and the Art Club of Erie. Until 1969, the Erie School District offices occupied the second floor while the library was located on the first and basement levels.
In 1963, the State Librarian designated the Erie Public Library as the District Library Center of Erie and Crawford Counties. The primary responsibilities of a District Library Center are to provide free interlibrary loan, reference services and a consultant’s services to the branch libraries as well as to all the local independent libraries in the two county area.
On November 14, 1973 the Erie Public Library broke its direct ties with the Erie School District and became the Erie Metropolitan Library, a non-profit corporation with an independent Board of Directors.
The Erie County Commissioners established a separate library, the Erie County Public Library in 1949. The main purpose of the Erie County Public Library was to serve the elementary schools of Erie County, which were without libraries of their own. This purpose dictated the direction the county library took in its formative years: that of a library on wheels and a philosophy of outreach. The County Library was established in the Priestly Avenue School in Lawrence Park and in 1966, moved again to an industrial arts building at 4212 Iroquois Avenue, the present location of the Iroquois Avenue Branch Library.
The Erie City and County Library formally came into existence on July 1, 1976. This library was a result of the merger between the Erie Metropolitan Library and the Erie County Public Library. A merger had been discussed since the 1960’s. In 1973, an independent library consultant was commissioned to study the feasibility of a merger. The result of this study was “the Machinski Report” and the recommendation was to merge. Serious negotiations between the board of Directors of the Erie Metropolitan Library and the Board of Trustees of the Erie county Library resumed in the fall of 1975. A $200,000 federal grant and agreement by the Erie County Commissioners to provide financial support to the Erie Metropolitan Library supplied the final impetus for merger. The federal grant was used to implement the merger and to establish two new branch outlets.
In October 1979, the Erie City and County Library was taken over by Erie County government. Administration spearheaded the takeover and signed an agreement with the School District of the City of Erie. The agreement reduced annual funding by the school district until contributions ceased on July 1, 1982, the first time since 1899 that the library did not receive appropriations from the Erie School District.
With the change in financial support came other major changes. The name of the library became the Erie County Library System. The library became a department of County Government and an Advisory Board was appointed, and all the staff became county rather than school district employees in 1982.
In 1996, after nearly 100 years of service, the main library on South Park Row closed its doors for the last time. The System name was changed back to the Erie County Public Library and a new main library, the Raymond M. Blasco, M.D. Memorial Library was erected on Erie’s bayfront. This facility was named after Dr. Blasco because of a generous endowment to the library through the Erie Community Foundation. The Erie County community contributed significant funding for the building.
The Erie County Public Library outlets are located as follows. A Bookmobile services those areas of Erie County that do not have local libraries or branch libraries.