• An illustration of a salon reading published in The Women of the French Salons, 1891. Courtesy of Harvard University via HathiTrust.

    More info
    Select an item:
    The women of the French salons
    • Date
    • 1891
    • Creator
    • Mason, Amelia Gere.
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • Harvard University.

  • The Boston Public Library seal, 1889. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Boston Public Library Seal
    • Date
    • 1889-01-01
    • Creator
    • Stevens, Edward F. (Edward Fletcher), 1860-1946
    • Description
    • Copy photograph of printed version of the Boston Public Library seal. Photo No. 48 by Edward Stevens, Clerk of Works. Image from: Public library building Copley Square : photographs of progress of the work August 1888 to Dec. 31, 1889. Image caption:... more
      Copy photograph of printed version of the Boston Public Library seal. Photo No. 48 by Edward Stevens, Clerk of Works. Image from: Public library building Copley Square : photographs of progress of the work August 1888 to Dec. 31, 1889. Image caption: No. 48. Jan. 1, 1889. Silver print of Seal. less
    • Rights
    • No known copyright restrictions. No known restrictions on use.
    • Partner
    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Boston Public Library

  • Bookplates from the Library Company of Philadelphia. Courtesy of University of Michigan HathiTrust.

    More info
    Select an item:
    The first books and printed catalogues of the Library Company of Philadelphia (includes page with bookplates)
    • Date
    • 1954]
    • Creator
    • Wolf, Edwin, 1911-.
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of Michigan.

  • Construction of the roof of the Forbes Library, 1893. Courtesy of the Forbes Library via Digital Commonwealth.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Laborers from the Berlin Iron Bridge Company at work on building the roof of the Forbes Library
    • Date
    • 1893
    • Description
    • The roof of the new Forbes Library being constructed by a team of workers standing on the iron beams. All the workers are wearing hats. The caption on the photograph reads, "Designed and built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company, Office and Works, East... more
      The roof of the new Forbes Library being constructed by a team of workers standing on the iron beams. All the workers are wearing hats. The caption on the photograph reads, "Designed and built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company, Office and Works, East Berlin, Conn. Image is from the Special Collections, Hampshire Room, Forbes Library, Northampton, Massachusetts. http://www.forbeslibrary.org/special/special.shtml. less
    • Rights
    • Rights status not evaluated. Contact host institution for more information.
    • Partner
    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Forbes Library

Before public libraries spread across the United States after the Revolutionary War, people were looking for outlets to access and discuss literature. During the Enlightenment, these came in the form of literary salons, which gained popularity in France and Italy. Salons were spaces for conversations about art, politics, and literature. They were particularly empowering for women, who had been barred from formal learning spaces and now had a place to exchange ideas, read and share their writing, and debate. Decades later, libraries offered a similar opportunity for women to enter the workforce and academia in new ways, too.

With the rise of non-religious texts and literacy rates in the 1700s, private book clubs among wealthy men evolved into subscription libraries. Subscription, or membership, libraries were funded by membership fees or donations, with collections accessible only to paying members. While today there are fewer than twenty membership libraries in existence in the US—many of which focus on special collections or rare material, rather than a varied book selection—from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s, they sprang up in cities across the country. The first of these libraries was formed in Philadelphia, under the direction of Benjamin Franklin, and would come to be known as the Library Company.