From Voluntary to State Action: Laissez-faire Philosophy and the Early Public Library Movement in Britain

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  • Alistair Black

The public library system in Britain today is reeling under the impact of neo-liberalist attitudes to the role of the state in society. This contrasts starkly with attitudes to public libraries when they were first proposed and established in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. At this time, economic liberals argued in favour of state involvement in the provision of libraries to compensate for the patchy and 'exclusive' provision that had been built up voluntarily over the centuries. In this context, an examination is made of the advocacy of liberals like Samuel Smiles, the leading publicist of self-help, and James Silk Buckingham, publisher, adventurer and reformer. 

From Voluntary to State Action project

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