This article contextualizes the history of public libraries during their formative periods, the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, within U.S. cultural history. It argues that the triumph of consumer capitalism, the dominance of hierarchy as an organizing principle, and the process of sacralization shaped public libraries' policies and procedures. The essay explores some of the ways that public libraries gave leisure an institutional form, helping to spatially and temporally particularize the abstract concept of the public through their policies related to access-to the buildings, collections, and people.
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