While reading Introduction to Public Librarianship I came across the 1852 report of the trustees of Boston Public Library. It offers a fascinating look at the origins of the public library system in North America.
At the same time, I’m reading The Great Delusion by Steven Stoll which is about 19th century ideas of progress in a time of industrialization and experimentation with new social structures. The delusion in the book refers to the contradiction between infinite economic growth and finite natural resources, meaning that economic theory (up to today) has been out of step with science (in particular, environmental studies). Changing the social conditions in which people live (which would include providing public libraries) is intended to elevate our civilization. But that often has meant assumptions about converting natural materials for our ends at the expense of sustainability. It would seem that if public libraries are to continue their role in maintaining an informed citizenry in a democratic society, then public libraries, founded on principles of progress that flowed from the societies of the 19th century, need to make sure that they are consistent with underlying social and natural realities that respect both the ongoing need for public education and the need for a sustainable civilization in the face of finite natural resources.