I answered some of these questions for myself in my dissertation and subsequent publications for Library Quarterly, Book History, Libraries and the Cultural Record (a journal that has changed names so many times it makes your head spin... it's now Information & Culture), and in a handful of book chapters.
But there's always more to learn, and I recently came across a great syllabus by my colleague Greg Downey at UW Madison who teaches in Journalism as well as LIS
Here's a sampling of the readings from the week on Public Library Purposes:
- F. B. Perkins, “How to make town libraries successful,” in United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education, Public libraries in the United States of America: Their history, condition and management, 2 vols. (Washington, DC: US GPO, 1876), 419-430.
- Sidney Ditzion, “The humanitarian idea” and “Conclusions” from Arsenals of a democratic culture: A social history of the American public library movement in New England and the Middle States from 1850-1900 (Chicago: ALA, 1947), 97-109, 190-193.
- Michael H. Harris, “The purpose of the American library: A revisionist interpretation of history,” Library Journal (15 Sep 1973), 2509-2514.
- Phyllis Dain, “Ambivalence and paradox: The social bonds of the public library,” Library Journal 100 (1975), 261-266.
- Elaine Fain, “Manners and morals in the public library: A glance at some new history [with commentary by Michael Harris and Dee Garrison],” Journal of Library History 10:2 (1975), 99-116.
And another course from UNC's R. E. Berquist of readings on the public library: