- Mechanics' Institutes Movement in the 19th Century England-Influences to the Public Libraries Act (1850)
- No.14, p.311-323
In this paper, the influences of the Mechanics’ Institutes movement in the 19th century England to the Public Libraries Act of 1850 are discussed.
A simple definition of an early Mechanics’ Institute would be an association of skilled workers to provide cheap instruction of scientific principles which exist behind their trades, by means of lectures, classes, and a library. The first Mechanics’ Institute was established in Glasgow in 1823 and was followed in many places all over the nation.
The Select Committee on Public Libraries which was appointed by William Ewart in 1849 derived many evidences about the state of Mechanics’Institutes mainly from three witnesses, Dawson, Smiles and Langley and proved existence of popular demands for reading and libraries. But they also revealed serious defects of the Mechanics’Institutes, such as limited accessibility owing to the subscription imposed on members, fluctuating nature of financial resources, and lack of any permanent means of supporting libraries. On the other hand, free public libraries could be free from such deficiencies and the Committee emphasized many advantages of rate-supported libraries.
This paper will make it clear these problems of the Mechanics’ Institutes movement by examining Minutes of Evidence of the Committee along with social backgrounds of the time. The most important backgrounds are the Industrial Revolution and popular educational movement of middle-class radicals.
Though educational functions of Mechanics’ Institutes were taken over by local governments in the latter half of the century, this paper also shows that the transition to public libraries did not always proceed easily.
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