Circulating libraries became an important cultural institution in Britain in the 1780s, doing much to enable the rising middle class to have access to a broad range of reading material, especially fiction.
Circulating libraries were generally of three kinds—specialist libraries attached to, or owned by, literary and philosophical societies which were developing in most British towns and cities in the later eighteenth century; book clubs which flourished in lower middle-class and socially aspirant groups such as urban artisans who wished to better themselves; and commercial libraries which developed in London, the major cities, and such watering places as Bath to supply the reading of the lower gentry and rising middle class,…
Clark, Robert. "Circulating Libraries". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 11 April 2005
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=189, accessed 11 December 2016.]