Public libraries are a recent phenomenon. They grew fast in the 1920s and 1930s when an expanding state thought it should get involved. Before that, though, the public had plenty of access to books—either through philanthropic foundations like the Carnegie Libraries, or through subscription libraries (of which the London Library in St James’s Square, London, was an early pioneer. Indeed, until well after the Second World War, private shops like Boots would lend books out to the public for a few pence. As for that other staple of public libraries, reference, the technology is making their job redundant.