Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Birth of the commercial lending library

At exactly the same moment as Manchester's free public library opened, the dominant commercial lending library in England was raising itself to "leviathan" status. Charles Edward Mudie had begun as a newsagent in Bloomsbury’s Southampton Row, with a small section of books on display. Students, then as now, would browse and not buy. It is a peculiarity of the retail book trade. Supermarkets such as Tesco’s and Vons do not install armchairs (as do Barnes and Noble in the United States, and Waterstone’s in the UK) where uncertain customers can open a can of beans, to see if it is to their taste, decide “no,” and leave having bought nothing.

Mudie drew the obvious conclusion and prudently put his book stock behind the counter and charged borrowing fees. With the embourgeoisement of west central London, his clientele expanded well beyond the student population. . . . Unlike the free libraries, he had not the slightest prejudice against new fiction. It was in fact his main line of goods.
John Sutherland, "Literature and the Library in the Nineteenth Century," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 133

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