Benjamin Franklin’s JUNTO CLUB & LENDING LIBRARY of Philadelphia* founded 1727 & 1731 At age 21, with his printing business established in Philadelphia and his circle of friends expanding, Benjamin Franklin formed a weekly discussion group with twelve men who shared his drive for learning and conversation. Named the Junto (derived from the Spanish to join), the club met every Friday evening in a tavern or house to discuss “Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy [science].” Soon the group gathered books from the members’ personal libraries into a lending library for the Junto ⎯ the beginnings of the first lending library in the colonies.
from Franklin’s Autobiography
I should have mentioned before that in the autumn of the preceding year , I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the JUNTO. We met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth [heatedness] , all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties [monetary fines]. . . .1 2 Our club, the Junto, was found so useful and afforded such satisfaction to the members that several were desirous of introducing their friends, which could not well be done without exceeding what we had settled as a convenient number, viz. [namely], twelve. We had from the beginning made it a rule to keep our institution a secret, which was pretty well observ’d; the intention was to avoid applications of improper persons for admittance, some of whom, perhaps, we might find it difficult to refuse. I was one of those who were against any addition to our number, but, instead of it, made in writing a proposal that every member separately should endeavor to form a subordinate club, with the same rules respecting queries, etc., and without informing them of the connection with the Junto. The advantages proposed were: the improvement of so many more young citizens by the use of our institutions; our better acquaintance with the general sentiments of the inhabitants on any occasion, as the Junto member might propose what queries we should desire, and was to report to the Junto what pass’d in his separate club; the promotion of our particular interests in business by more extensive recommendation, and the increase of our influence in public affairs, and our power of doing good by spreading thro’ the several clubs the sentiments of the Junto. The project was approv’d, and every member undertook to form his club, but they did not all succeed. Five or six only were completed, which were called by different names, as the Vine, the Union, the Band, etc. They were useful to themselves and afforded us a good deal of amusement, information, and instruction, besides answering, in some considerable degree, our views of influencing the public opinion on particular occasions . . . .
About this time, our club meeting not at a tavern but in a little room of Mr. Grace’s set apart for that purpose, a proposition was made by me that, since our books were often referr’d to in our disquisitions upon the queries, it might be convenient to us to have them altogether where we met, that upon occasion they might be consulted; and by thus clubbing our books to a common library, we should, while we lik’d to keep them together, have each of us the advantage of using the books of all the other members, which would be nearly as beneficial as if each owned the whole. It was lik’d and agreed to, and we fill’d one end of the room with such books as we could best spare. The number was not so great as we expected, and tho’ they had been of great use, yet some inconveniences occurring for want of due care of them, the collection, after about a year, was separated and each took his books home again.3
Any person to be qualified [for Junto membership], to stand up, and lay his hand on his breast, and be asked these questions; viz. Have you any particular disrespect to any present members? Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general; of what profession or religion soever? Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Do you love truth’s sake, and will you endeavour impartially to find and receive it yourself and communicate it to others?