Historical Development and the Funding of Libraries for the Public in the United States





public library history, public library funding, social library, United States


To better understand the funding issues confronting public libraries today, this article examines the development of library services for the public in the United States before the emergence of the tax-supported public library in the first half of the 19th century. It follows an earlier article on the development of such services in England. Adopting a historical research methodological approach, it was found that the early types of libraries included the town book collection, the social library and the commercial circulating library, and these are described and discussed. Where possible, funding or financial issues are highlighted. The importance of philanthropic and voluntary support emerged as important factors in the establishment and maintenance of the social library in its various forms. However, it was found that neither type of support was able to sustain the existence of the social library, and this was particularly evident during difficult economic times. With the emergence of the tax-supported public library, the social library slowly declined in importance and, with a few exceptions, eventually disappeared, often being absorbed into the emerging public library system.


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How to Cite

Leach, Athol, and Christine Stilwell. 2023. “Historical Development and the Funding of Libraries for the Public in the United States”. Mousaion: South African Journal of Information Studies 41 (2):16 pages . https://doi.org/10.25159/2663-659X/12641.



Received 2022-11-17
Accepted 2023-10-12
Published 2023-10-23