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The Public Libraries Act of 1850 (August 14, 1850)

The Public Libraries Act 1850 (13 & 14 Vict c.65), an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament, gave local boroughs the power to establish free public libraries for the first time.

"The Act was the first legislative step in the creation of an enduring national institution that provides universal free access to information and literature, and was indicative of the moral, social and educative concerns of the time. The legacy of the Act can be followed through subsequent legislation that built on and expanded the powers granted in 1850 and the 4,540 public libraries that exist in the United Kingdom in 2010 can trace their origins back to this Act" (Wikipedia article on Public Libraries Act 1850).