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Modern Libraries: 1825-1849 CE

Let's examine the continued expansion of circulating, subscription, society libraries, and African American libraries.

The publishing industry continued to grow. Publishers and authors became increasingly concerned about copyright issues. The Copyright Act of 1842 in the United Kingdom repealed earlier acts and provided future protection for the lifetime of the author of a work. The act provided for a minimum of forty-two years. At the 1886 Berne Convention, copyrights were acknowledged among the sovereign nations.

Circulating and subscription libraries continued to be popular into the mid-1800s, however other libraries were being introduced as well.

The athenaeum was an institution that promoted learning. Often associated with a literary club or scientific academy, the buildings generally contained a library as well as access to reading rooms and other areas.

Professional associations were created to further the interests of individuals within a particular profession. These associations acted as learned societies for the academic disciplines. These associations and societies often developed libraries with collections to meet the needs of their members.

Book clubs and reading societies continued to be popular during this time period.

Skim the Cambridge Book Club Records, 1832-1975 for a sense of the collection.

Circulating and Subscription Libraries

Subscription libraries such as the the Portico Library and Leeds Library continued to be popular into the 19th century, however some of these libraries closed. According to the Leeds Library website,

"one reason was the appearance of other rival subscription libraries in the 19th century including those of the philosophical and literacy societies and the Mechanics' Institutes. These organizations offered other features such as museums, scientific investigation, public lectures and educational classes. Many subscription libraries combined with these 'rival' organizations. Others closed when the public libraries began to appear from the mid-19th century onwards, often donating their own collection to the new public one. The large commercial circulating libraries such as those of Boots, Harrods, Mudies and W H Smith also helped to reduce the subscriptions libraries' appeal".

Learn more at the Leeds Library.

Portico Library
Manchester, England

Portico Library KJP1 Wikimedia Commons CC A-SAConstruction began on the Greek Revival style Portico Library in 1802 and the library opened to members in 1806. This subscription library was established to combine the missions of a club, newsroom, and library.

Focusing on 19th century literature, it contained both fiction and nonfiction collections.

The photo on the right shows the library today.

Learn more about the Portico Library.

London Library
London, England

While some subscription libraries were closing, others were just beginning. Founded in 1841, the London Library is the world's largest independent lending library. Located in the City of Westminster, London, the library was organized by a group of men including Thomas Carlyle who were dissatisfied by policies at the British Library. They wanted a subscription library where books could be read at home.

One of their founding principles was that no book should ever be discarded, no matter how old, idiosyncratic or unfashionable.

Learn more at the London Library.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Atkinson, Juliette (2013). The London library and the circulation of French fiction in the 1840s. Information & Culture, 48(4), 391-418.

Salem Book-store Wikimedia PDSalem Book-Store
Salem, Massachusetts

John Dabney (1752-1819) was a bookseller, publisher, and postmaster. In 1789, he established a circulating library in Salem. Dabney offered books for sale or short-term rental. The collection of 1770 titles provided the foundation for thirty years of success in business. According to Hayes (2008), his collection consisted of fiction (41 percent), literature (14 percent), science (13 percent), and geography, travel, history and biography (7 percent each).

The image on the right shows the title page of John Dabney's Catalogue of the Salem Book-Store and Circulating Library printed in 1813.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Croteau, Jeffrey (2006). Yet more American circulating libraries: a preliminary checklist of Brooklyn (New York) circulating libraries. Library History, 22(3), 171-180.

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Stiffler, Stuart A. (2011). Books and reading in the Connecticut Western Reserve: the small-settlement social library, 1800-1860. Libraries & the Cultural Record, (46)4, 360-387.


Many subscription libraries provided more than access to stimulated discussions and literature. The word athenaeum was sometimes used to describe a library that provides books, periodicals, and newspapers, along with additional materials for scientific and literary pursuits.

Boston Athenaeum
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

The Boston Athenaeum founded in 1807 by the Anthology Club of Boston Massachusetts is a good example. Patrons paid an annual subscription fee to become members. The library included books in all subjects, a gallery of sculptures and paintings, curiosities such as coins, natural history specimens, and a laboratory. The collection began circulating in 1830. Patrons could check out four books at once. The neo-Alladian facade building of sandstone was build in 1849.

The photos below show the varied activities and opportunities available at the Athenaeum.

Boston Athenaeum 1905 Wikimedia PDBoston Atheneum Wikimedia Commons PD

Boston Atheneum Wikimedia PDBoston Athenieum Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about the Boston Athenaeum.

Providence Athenaeum
Providence, Rhode Island

The Providence Athenaeum founded is one of the oldest subscription libraries in the United States. A group of citizens formed the Providence Library Company in 1753 that later became known as the Providence Atheneum and moved to its current building in 1838. It combines a unique library with a cultural center.

Learn more about the Providence Athenaeum at the Providence Museum.

Salem Athenaeum
Salem, Massachusetts

Another example is the Salem Athenaeum established in 1810. The library began in 1760 when a social club donated 175 guineas toward the formation of a library for mutual use.

Learn more about the Salem Athenaeum.

Learned Societies and Professional Associations

Learned society libraries were owned by large groups focusing on a particular area of interest. They often loaned materials to individuals and institutions beyond the society who were conducting investigations. Often focusing on the sciences, they cooperated with professional associations to provide membership resources.

Founded in 1841, the Chemical Society of London was formed to advance study in chemistry. Professional associations sometimes maintained collections for the benefit of their members. Some libraries distributed materials by mail.

Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle Upon Tyne
Newcastle Upon Tyne, England

Lit and Phil PDFounded in 1793, the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle Upon Tyne was a conversation club debating a wide range of issues, however religion and politics were prohibited. The library contained works in multiple languages.

In 1879, it became the first public building to be illuminated with electric light bulbs.

Since the nineteenth century, the Society has been known for it's lecture programs. In addition to books, the library also included specimens such as the wombat and duck-billed platypus donated by John Hunter, the Governor of New South Wales.

It's also known for it's collection of music.

The Lit & Phil as it's known today is the largest independent library outside London in the UK and has over 2000 members.

Learn more about the Lit & Phil.

Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution
Bath, England

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Bath, England was a center for science lecturing. After a series of societies folded, the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (below), known as BRLSI was founded in 1824.

The institution was design with a museum, exhibition room, library, laboratory, and lecture room. The antiquarian library contains over 7000 volumes including works by Charles Darwin. The library also contains correspondence between Darwin and his friend Jenyns.

Library collections by Leonard Jenyns and Christopher Edmund Broome are included in the library. Leonard Jenyns is known for his work with fish (below right). The institute contains many science collections such as Charles Moore's marine specimens and fossil collections.

Learn more about the library at BRSI. Be sure to explore the history, view the fossil collection, and explore the mineral gallery.

Wright, G.N. (1984). The Historical Guide to Bath. PDJenynsfish PD

Upper Lusatian Science Library
Goerlitz, Germany

In 1779, the Upper Lusatian Society of Sciences was formed. The group acquired private libraries and reorganized it's system in 1812 to include a print catalog. The collection began to circulate in 1826.

With over 140,000 volumes, this regional library still serves Germany, Poland, and Czech Republic. The science library was created in 1950 by combining the Johann Gottlieb Milich City and High School Library collections found in 1727 with the Upper Lusatian Scientific Society collection established in 1779. Housed in a baroque building since 1804, it was renovated in 2011. It contains an extensive collection of works by Jakob Bohme.

The image below shows the library today.

Learn more about the Upper Lustian Science Library.

Upper Lusatian Library Website

Burchard Literacy Association
Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Burchard Literacy Association was established to "promote our literary and scientific interests, to acquire facility in debate and declimation..." Their constitution noted that any young man of at least sixteen is eligible for membership.

Skim the Burchard Literacy Association Records, 1865-1869 from Harvard University Library. It provides a wonderful overview of their mission and activities.

Hasty Pudding Club
Cambridge, Masschusetts

Many student organizations began literary and social clubs. Libraries and reading often played a role in these clubs. In 1770, a Speaking Club was formed at Harvard University to bring together people for conversation and debate. A library was an ongoing component of the group. The club evolved over the next few decades and in 1848 it merged with the Imitatores Omnium Honestarum (IOH). In 1924, it was renamed the Hasty Pudding Club.

The invitation below shows an invitation to become a member of the club

IOH Member, Harvard University Archives

The image below shows the meeting house of the social club at Harvard University around 1876. Notice the bookshelves along the wall.

Hasty Pudding Club, PD WIkimedia

Dig DeeperDig Deeper
Read Eide, Elisabeth S. (2010). Reading societies and lending libraries in nineteenth-century Norway. Library & Information History, 26(2), 121-138.

African Americans and Libraries

Library services for African Americans began in the late 1700s.

In Delaware, the Quakers opened a school for blacks in 1798 and the African School Society was established in 1816.

During the next couple decades, segregated libraries began appearing in the Philadelphia area. In 1828 abolitionist William Whipper established a reading room for the "mental improvement of people of color in the neighborhood of Philadelphia." Then in 1831, the Female Library Society was founded in Philadelphia as the first library for African American women. In 1833 the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons was established as a literarcy society.

Although a few resources for the black population were beginning to emerge in the North, most areas of the South didn't allow African Americans to be educated.

Amos Fortune (1710-1801)
Jaffrey, New Hampshire

Amos Fortune (ca. 1710-1801) arrived in America on a slave ship in the mid 1700s. Fortune was able to purchase his freedom, move to New Hampshire in 1781, and start a tanning business. He was treated as a regular member of the local community and was a full member of the local church.

Fortune is listed as the town's first benefactor meaning that he made contributions to the town. He helped establish the Jaffrey Social Library. The group had its first meeting in 1789, but the library wasn't chartered from the state until 1797. In addition, he was responsible for binding some of the library books in leather.

Upon his death, Fortune left $100 to the church and $243 to the school. Eventually was a trust was created for the Jaffrey Public Library's children's department. The trust helped publish a biography of Fortune.

The photo below shows cover art from the boook Amos Fortune, The Man and His Legacy by Peter Lambert. This book was published by the Amos Fortune Forum.

Amos Fortune, Cover art from Amos Fortune The Man and His Legacy

Skim Amos Fortune, The Man and His Legacy by Peter Lambert. (PDF download)


Clark, John Willis (1901). The Care of Books. Cambridge University Press Warehouse. Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=uvQ_AAAAYAAJ

Hayes, Kevin J. (2008). The Oxford Handbook of Early American Literature. Oxford University Press.

Kranz, Rachel (2004). African-American Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs. Infobase Publishing.

Lambert, Peter (2000). Amos Fortune, The Man and His Legacy. The Amos Fortune Forum. Download as PDF.

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