The University claims Benjamin Franklin as its founder, or at least as primus inter pares. The Libraries also acknowledge Franklin's leading role in making sure that the early University had books. Franklin was one of the Libraries' earliest donors and, as a Trustee, he saw to it that funds were allocated for the purchase of texts from London, many of which are still part of the collection, more than 250 years later. Like its founder, the Libraries have been practical, resourceful, and never ostentatious. For Franklin, books were tools for improvement: improvement of self, of society and of the material world. Accordingly, the size of the collection has always been less important than the quality of its content. The Penn Libraries may not be the largest of their kind, but they have never aspired to be. Rather, they have sought to be eminently useful to the diverse constituency of scholars, students and the public who have had recourse to use their resources.
Since its founding In 1750, Penn has developed into a major research institution and its library collections now serve not only the 20,000 students and nearly 5,000 faculty that make up the Penn community, but also researchers around the world. The Libraries support a wide range of academic work, from cancer research to robotics to historical preservation to the study of the English Renaissance. As befits exceptional scholars, Penn's students and faculty are prolific library users, annually drawing more than 300,000 items from the print collections and downloading in excess of five million journal articles from the electronic sources. Each year, the Libraries on campus welcome some two million visitors, and their websites collectively receive more than ten million hits.
With six million printed volumes and a digital collection equivalent to millions more, the Penn Libraries are a prominent scholarly resource composed of 15 individual units on Penn's West Philadelphia campus, as well as nearby Heritage Collection of some one million volumes and the Library of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies in Center City Philadelphia. As a collective, they rank in the top tier of North American research libraries, with nearly 300 staff and annual information expenditures of more than $14 million.
Since the late 19th century, the Penn Libraries have been forward-thinking about technology. The first designated library structure at Penn, designed in consultation with Melville Dewey, employed classification schemes and expandable stack units that prefigured the contemporary challenges of resource discovery and preservation. In the 1970s, Penn was in the vanguard of libraries using computerized cataloging methods; two decades later, the Libraries had a voice in the design of the first web-accessible catalog and were early in the race to digitize important primary resources for dissemination on the Internet. The Libraries' role in the advancement of information technology continues today, in their role as the principal administrators of courseware technology at Penn and through an evolving partnership with peer institutions and foundations to develop the next generation of library automation.
Like Penn's founders, the Libraries are dedicated to the lasting over the ephemeral. The advancement of scholarly inquiry and perpetual access to the record of knowledge is still their goal. Through the orchestration of collections, research and instructional services, the design of innovative learning environments, and expertise in knowledge management, the Libraries bridge all disciplines to foster intellectual discovery. In keeping with Benjamin Franklin's motto, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest", the Penn Libraries recognize and further the social and economic benefits that accrue to academic inquiry.