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Libraries today are very different creatures from their 18th-century counterparts. For one thing, with shifting technologies and generational attitudes, libraries have moved away from being places to strictly borrow books. Now, they are community resource centers and hubs for people looking to do everything from research projects and archive requests to applying for a job or streaming a movie.

Of course, libraries still contain thousands and thousands of books available for check out. Despite the popular grumblings that dictate otherwise, people still read at voracious rates. However, by diversifying their offerings, libraries are able to continue serving a greater number of community members than simply those who want a book to read.


Looking at the earliest libraries in the 1700s, the libraries of today have transformed in even bigger ways than the availability of new media formats. For one thing, libraries used to only be for private use, available to only the wealthiest people in society; alternatively, they were only available at universities, keeping them exclusively in the reach of wealthy white men who were allowed to attend school. Here are a few other ways libraries have changed since the 1700s.

Libraries in Higher Education

For many countries across the world, it used to be that only rich families were able to send their sons to attend college or university. In some cases, this meant the only people who could access libraries in a society were from the topmost part of the upper class. Without money, the only other way to get an education was to pursue it as a monk or nun, as religion was closely tied to studies.


School libraries were not the multi-storied monolithic presences on campus that they are now. Books were still expensive to create en masse, so most schools could only afford to maintain a library of modest size. So this means that not only were libraries small, but they were intensely exclusive, limiting who could access the information contained therein.


Luckily, higher education has changed a lot from the 1700s. Now, not only can anyone who wants to at least apply for a university or college, but there are multiple ways to pay for schooling. Additionally, classrooms are a diverse and varied place full of books, technology, and fresh faces each day.

Benefits of Libraries in the 1700s

Despite seeming antiquated and old-fashioned now, the libraries of the 18th century were just as helpful to the populations that used them as modern libraries are now, despite rumors that libraries are going out of style. For one thing, a part of every revolution can be attributed to the improved dissemination of information. In some cases, this started in libraries with students who wanted to see a better tomorrow for their communities.


Additionally, libraries in the 1700s could be a place for further employment for the particularly studious. Bookmaking was its own career path, with the need for binding, printing, and illustration a constant presence. Once the books were made, the18th-century version of a librarian would be needed to maintain their organization and preservation.


Although libraries in the 1700s were primarily available to the wealthy, they still provided benefits to those who used them. Students and their families could learn about the world and read for pleasure as it suited them. They could research to develop their own unique and new ideas to then send out into the world, usually in the form of a pamphlet.

Benefits of Modern-Day Libraries

One of the biggest benefits of the modern day libraries we have access to now is that they provide resources and materials for free. This can come in the form of simply checking out media like books or movies. Additionally, it may mean offering classes or workshops open to the public on topics like video editing or resume building.


School libraries can be essential in helping to diversify student populations by providing access to free or low-cost resources. For example, keeping several copies of up-to-date textbooks could help students save money on expensive course materials. Students can also use library computers to print assignments or complete presentations as needed at no cost to them. On top of physical benefits, many libraries also offer study materials like tablets, apps for keeping track of all their work, and more to help the modern student be most successful in their studies. It’s no longer just the Dewey Decimal System and sitting hunched over books all afternoon!


One of the most recent benefits of modern libraries is the creation of the streaming platform Kanopy. It provides library card holders across the country the chance to watch up to four free movies a month simply by plugging in their library card number. There’s no subscription fee required and viewers can enjoy classic films, blockbuster favorites, and brand new documentaries from the comfort of their own home.


Regardless of the century, libraries continue to be important staples to our society. By providing resources free of charge, libraries make it possible for populations to remain better-educated and engaged with their communities. They will continue to remain important for decades to come as they adapt to shifting needs in society.