From the communitylibraries.net project:
We are delighted to announce the launch of a new AHRC-funded international research network on Community Libraries, which aims to establish a dynamic, interdisciplinary research forum to investigate the role of libraries in shaping communities in the long eighteenth century. Developed by Dr Mark Towsey (University of Liverpool) together with partners at Loyola University Chicago, the Newberry Library, and Dr Williams’s Library (London), the Network will explain the emergence of libraries in the ‘public sphere’ between 1650 and 1850. We will assess the contribution made by libraries to the circulation and reception of print of all kinds, and to the forging of collective identities amongst local, national, and international communities of readers. In addition, the network aims to explore the emergence of libraries in comparative perspective, asking how far models of library provision and administration were disseminated, discussed, imitated, and challenged as they travelled between different social environments and political regimes.
The antebellum college library catalogs and also the college literary society borrowing records have a lot to contribute to the history of the book project.
The image is of Washington Hall on the Washington and Lee campus. As I recall the Washington Literary Society's offices were on the upper floor of the building. Their library records and debate minutes are a terrific source of information on what the students were reading and thinking, which should be used in conjunction with the addresses given to literary societies. Together those will allow us to reconstruct the world of ideas of constitutionalism, utility, and slavery so central to the old South.