Document Type


Publication Date



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


This is a working paper.

Included in

Economics Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.