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"A Study of Lending Libraries in Eighteenth-Century Britain." E. Lochrie. D. McMenemy. Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde. 2015. Download PDF (BibTeX)

This research questions a number of untested assumptions concerning eighteenth-century lending libraries in Britain, particularly that the membership of circulating libraries was dominated by women and that the stock primarily consisted of novels. Current scholarship is reviewed and assessed in relation to a close reading of eighteenth-century catalogues from across the UK.

The aim of this research is to extend the understanding of how eighteenth-century libraries actually operated. The conclusions reached are based on the published rules and regulations of libraries, contents of stock and evidence of actual borrower behaviour, rather than contemporary commentary, which may have been fuelled by wider social anxieties of the time.

Findings confirmed that circulating libraries and subscription libraries were viewed differently, with more anxiety surrounding commercial ventures and their stock. However, actual differences were exaggerated by an anxious segment of the eighteenth-century community and perpetuated in much modern scholarship.

It was discovered that financial, social, geographical and gender barriers all impaired use of libraries for certain groups, at certain times, for certain libraries. No universal picture emerged for the UK as a whole.

Questions surrounding access to the physical eighteenth-century library were explored and the importance of the catalogue in borrower's book selection established. A detailed exploration of three Glasgow libraries provided further evidence of these conclusions. The unexpected issue of works being falsely attributed to authors in eighteenth-century catalogues also came to light through this research.