Introduction: Libraries of our own

Alistair Black

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


An historic suspicion of the centralised state, combined with the rise of the free market and a supporting ideology hostile to extensive state intervention and friendly to self-help, meant that voluntary action remained as important an aspect of library provision in the decades immediately after 1850 as it had become in the “associational” society that had emerged during the Enlightenment and early industrial revolution. As towns and cities grew, social intercourse intensified. Equally, to counter the anonymity inherent in urban living, citizens became increasingly more “clubbable”. The emergence of communities of shared interest - at times, as in the case of mining communities, spatially coherent also - fed through into the establishment and continuing existence of a variety of “social libraries”, based on the payment of a subscription or a long-term proprietary investment. Libraries as different as the private and prestigious London Library and the relatively marginal libraries established in working men's clubs would correspond equally to this description. Many social libraries satisfied the credentials of the pure public sphere institution theorised by the German sociologist Jrgen Habermas in his Structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society (1989): Rational, open, democratic, independent of the state and commercial interest, and supportive of the free expression of ideas and of scientific and intellectual discovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland
Subtitle of host publication1850-2000
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages2
ISBN (Electronic)9781139055321
ISBN (Print)0521780977, 9780521780971
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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