Expansion of Public Libraries in the United States, 1870-1930
25 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2008
Date Written: May 10, 2006
The period 1870-1930 witnessed the emergence of the local public library as a widespread and enduring American institution. In this paper we document the expansion of public libraries in the United States over these years, using data drawn from library surveys conducted by the federal Bureau of Education, and review some causal accounts for that expansion. Exploiting cross-state and temporal variation in the data, we estimate panel regressions to assess plausible demand and supply factors affecting the pace of library development. We consider a number of the social and economic variables that have been found to correlate with the development of educational institutions, including income, urbanization, and ethnic composition, as well as average levels of education and literacy themselves. We also examine the effect of supply-side factors that were specific to public libraries, such as state library commissions and associations.
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