'The Great Fiction Bore': free Libraries and the construction of a reading public in England, 1880-1914

Hammond, Mary (2002). 'The Great Fiction Bore': free Libraries and the construction of a reading public in England, 1880-1914. Libraries and Culture: a journal of library history, 37(2) pp. 83–108.

URL: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/libraries_and_culture...

Abstract

This article examines the records of four English 19th-century public libraries, demonstrating how a reading public might have been constructed in this period not only through the books on offer, but also in part through and by the policies which governed municipal public spaces, and the architecture of the library itself.
The Public Libraries Act (England and Wales) was passed in 1850 at a time when democracy was being hotly debated but only one person in forty was eligible to vote, and compulsory elementary education for all was still twenty years in the future. This essay explores how the public library came to act as a legitimating body for the performance of class and gender through reading practices. It argues that the social and political history surrounding the library movement in England is crucial to an understanding of how, though founded on the Arnoldian principle of culture as social panacea, it had come by the First World War to function on the principle of cultural capital as social signifier.

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