The public library movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries fostered a rapid increase in the number and quality of public libraries in cities and towns across the United States. One important argument for libraries was that they would enhance American democracy by promoting virtues of citizenship and enabling access to information. This paper examines how voter turnout was affected, in the short-term, by the establishment of public libraries, using a county-by-election year panel. Our empirical strategy exploits the founding dates of public libraries as discrete events that should have influenced subsequent voting behavior. Over the wide range of specifications considered, the vast majority of regression results suggest that libraries had no significant short term impact on voter turnout. We discuss potential reasons for this finding, and compare it with recent work finding a positive impact of newspapers on political participation.
JEL classifications: H40, H75, N31, N32, N41, N42
Kevane, Michael J. and Sundstrom, William A., "Public libraries and political participation, 1870-1940" (2016). Economics. Paper 55.