The Bothwell Literary Society established the first community-based library in a regional Tasmanian town. This came by way of a resolution at the Society's meeting of 7 July 1834. Initial acquisitions were obtained either by way of donation, in lieu of subscription fees or by purchase from unnamed London booksellers. An initial and sizeable donation was made by Capt. Patrick Wood of Dennistoun, Bothwell, who was in Scotland when the library was mooted. He purchased 130 volumes, some secondhand, in Edinburgh and donated them to the collection.
The Society was founded by the Rev. James Garrett, and first met in June 1834 as a debating society. The first topic for debate was 'Whether is knowledge conducive to human happiness'. Subsequently a library was formed and lectures were held during the winter months. Members of the Society included Phineas Moss, the police clerk; Dr Edward Swarbreck Hall; and Hugh Munro Hull. These three members are all significant in Tasmanian history.
The building occupied in 1837 by the Bothwell Literary Society which, under the patronage of Sir John Franklin, established the first public library in Tasmania In 1852 Irish political exile, John Mitchell, wrote, 'Bothwell has a very tolerable public library, such library as no village of similar population in Ireland had'. The Society established one of the earliest rural libraries in the Australian colonies and remained active for over a century.
The building known as the Literary Society building in Alexander Street is now used as municipal offices by the Central Highlands Council. The building was opened as a school in 1856, but it appears to be an older building. It was re-furbished in the early 1980s. Many of the original fittings were sold off or taken to the tip, undocumented. Before 1856 the Literary Society library seems to have been moved around to whatever house had room to store the books. In the 1856 school building a special room was set aside for the library
By the 1840s, the Library had begun to make considerably more local purchases. The Library's 1856 catalogue lists 553 titles, many of which were multi-volume publications. At the end of the nineteenth century, the collection was outdated; 1892 saw the last major acquisition, with the donation of 81 books by the MLC for Derwent, Walter Gellibrand.
By the century's end interest had waned, lectures ceased, and the books were out-dated. In 1892 the MLC for Derwent, Walter Gellibrand, donated eighty-one books – the society's last major acquisition. The books were sent to the State Library of Tasmania for some years but were returned (with some extracted) and have been housed in various places in Bothwell over the years. Many of the library's original records are held in the Archives Office of Tasmania. Part of the original collection remains in Bothwell, but as a museum piece, rather than a working library.
Today, the Bothwell Literary Society Library is housed by the Bothwell Historical Society. Its library is owned by the local municipal authority and is housed in the former Headmaster’s House. When Bothwell Council took over the Society's premises as its Council Chamber in 1985, the library was transferred to the control of Bothwell Historical Society.