Friends Historical Library was established in 1871 to collect, preserve, and make available archival, manuscript, printed, and visual records concerning the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) from their origins mid-seventeenth century to the present. The collection reflects the Quaker origins of Swarthmore College. With more than 45,000 books, pamphlets and serials, 60,000 photographs, 400 major manuscript collections, and 9,000 volumes of original meeting records, Friends Historical Library is one of the outstanding research facilities for the study of Quaker history. The Library also maintains the Swarthmore College Archives and the papers of the Swarthmore Historical Society.
Besides the obvious focus on Quaker history, the holdings are a significant research collection for the regional and local history of the middle-Atlantic region of the United States and the history of American social reform. Quakers played prominent roles in almost every major reform movement in American history, including abolition, African-American history, Indian rights, women's rights, prison reform, humane treatment of the mentally ill, and temperance. The collections also reflect the significant role Friends played in the development of science, technology, education, and business in Britain and America.
Access policies are designed to provide maximum convenience to researchers consistent with the library's responsibility for preservation of the materials entrusted to its care and reasonable protection of individual privacy. While the Library's primary mission is the support of scholarly research on topics related to Quakers, Friends Historical Library is open to all serious researchers. Only a very small amount of the collection is currently available online.