Libraries Belonging to Business Firms
Most of this chapter is about libraries maintained by firms or individuals who either charged users a fee or provided reading rooms, usually without charge, for customers who came for other purposes. A few other libraries considered in this chapter were ones that were provided for the benefit of employees or were helpful in the conduct of the owner's business. At the end of the chapter a very few collections are mentioned that were owned by individuals who opened them for the free use of the public. All of these kinds of libraries are shown in Table 9.1.
Commercial Circulating Libraries. The provision of reading matter by all of the libraries considered in this study existed partly because Americans were willing to spend the necessary money to acquire and make available the materials in the collections. It was to be expected that some persons would undertake to provide these materials for a fee, so the commercial circulating library flourished from colonial times through 1875.1 The user did not have to make the substantial investment and pay the annual [taxes] normally required of members of library societies, nor did he or she have to support the collection through taxes paid to state or local governments. Usually, the borrower rented only the books that he or she wanted, paying the fees monthly, quarterly, or annually.
David Kaser, in his excellent history of the American commercial circulating library, A Book for a Sixpence, points out that people rented books for a fee for hundreds of years before this country was settled by Europeans. Commercial libraries were well established in Britain before they came to the American colonies around 1760.2
Most of the commercial circulating libraries contained general collections, perhaps with a higher percentage of popular titles than were to be found in the social libraries. At any rate, both kinds were able to flourish; towns often had several of each. Like social libraries and public libraries, commercial libraries