In early March, I participated in a presentation and discussion on The Community Library in the 21st Century along with Maxine Bleiweis, the director of the Westport Public Library.
Libraries have been an integral part of civilization from our earliest history, including ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Greek and Roman scholars came to their libraries to discuss issues and learn from each other.
Free, open public libraries were first established in communities across the UK and the US in the second half of the 19th century. Along with the rise of public schools during the same period, they were an important part of the transition from the agricultural to the emerging industrial economy which required a more literate, better educated work force.
From the 1880s through the 1920s, almost 1700 public libraries were built in the US, through the philanthropic efforts of industrialist Andrew Carnegie. His Carnegie Library Grants promoted community libraries for self-education, which was particularly important during a time when the US was absorbing large numbers of immigrants from around the world.