In 1861 the schoolteachers of lower Normandy declared that ‘the population should read more: it should be diverted from certain immoral, revolutionary and socialist books which are passed from hand to hand’. Theirs was thus a double campaign: to encourage the reading of books and, at the same time, to ensure that the right books were being read.1 All over France, teachers were having marked success in instructing children, especially boys, how to read: the number of totally illiterate conscripts declined from about 40 per cent in 1850 to 18 per cent in 1875, although as many again remained functionally illiterate. The issue was increasingly what people should read, and the teachers’ zeal was matched by associations such as the Société Franklin and the Ligue d’enseignement, which together urged the creation of school and public libraries. By 1870, 15,000 primary schools had tiny libraries of 50–100 books, paralleled by the remarkable surge in public libraries in these decades. Whereas in 1851 there had been 2,428 libraries outside Paris, by 1878 there were 5,086; apart from Brittany and the Massif Central, there was at least one library for every 7,500 people.
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