Darwen has a record of innovation in the library world. It was the first non-borough to adopt the Public Libraries Act in 1871 and was the first in the north of England to adopt the open-access system, whereby the borrower could browse through the books.
There had no doubt been private libraries in the town owned by the wealthy since the beginning of the 18th century and access to these may have been granted to chosen individuals, but the first public library of any kind in the town was at the Mechanics' Institute, which was established in 1839.
After the adoption of the Act a public library was opened in the Local Board Offices next to the Peel Baths, the site now occupied by the 'Co-op Late Shop.' The Technical School opened in 1895 and the library moved there.
The Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, made his many millions from his iron and steel works in the USA. He retired in 1901 and devoted his energy and his fortune to funding public libraries in the UK and USA. Darwen Council applied to him for funds and in 1904 he granted £8,000 towards the cost of building a library.
The opening date for the new library was 27th of May 1908. Andrew Carnegie himself officiated. The Stars and Stripes flew over the entrance and Carnegie was made a freeman of the Borough.
As a result of its open access policy Darwen Library enjoyed healthy issue figures, which continued despite a ban on popular fiction. For its size Darwen became one of the busiest libraries in Lancashire.
In 1974 Darwen became part of Blackburn Borough.
This is Darwen Library in 1908. Librarian Joseph Pomfret carefully surveys the recently completed building on the eve of the official opening and the visit of the celebrated, multi-millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who donated the funds for the building project.
One hundred years later centenary celebrations have been taking place. During the month of May there was a full programme of events. Exhibitions and displays were mounted in the library and the theatre bar. Local photographer Matt Donnelly's views of Darwen Library were on show in the exhibition room and a series of photographs showing the library as it was in 1908 were displayed throughout the building.