In an age of greed and selfishness, the public library stands as an enduring monument to the values of cooperation and sharing.
The public library is a singularly American invention. Europeans had subscription libraries for 100 years before the United States was born. But in April 1833, the good citizens of Peterborough, New Hampshire created a radically new concept—a public library. All town residents, regardless of income, had the right to freely share the community’s stored knowledge. Their only obligation was to return the information on time and in good condition, allowing others to exercise that same right.
By the 1870s, 11 states together boasted 188 public libraries. By 1910, all states had them. Today, 9,000 central buildings and about 7500 branches have made public libraries one of the most ubiquitous of all American institutions, more widespread than Starbucks or McDonalds.
Almost two thirds of us carry library cards. About half of us visit a public library at least once a year, many of us much more than once. Library use varies by class and race and by age and educational level, but the majority of Americans—blacks and Latinos and whites, old and young, poor and rich, high school dropouts and university graduates, use the public library.
* Excerpts from http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-public-library-manifesto