Reading rooms and literary institutes were important recreational spaces in the Yorkshire Dales in the 19th Century. They could be found in almost every village and hamlet in the Dales, and were sometimes the only public building. Many of these buildings were built as local initiatives, and their establishment would have involved a considerable effort for many small communities. It seems likely that patronage had a strong role to play for the volume in the Yorkshire Dales. They were in part supported due to the foreseen advantages to the moral and intellectual welfare of the populous, particularly in having their tenants and employees socialising in an environment other than the public house. These buildings coincided with the temperance movement. Nearly all of the reading rooms were non-sectarian, however many had rules which revealed a temperance bias.
The character and appearance of reading rooms and literary institutes vary. The ‘cottage’ reading rooms occupied existing premises, and therefore had no particular distinguishing features. The most common purpose-built reading rooms were single storey halls. Reading rooms were sometimes combined with other public buildings. This type is usually found in larger settlements where civic pride and sufficient funding were combined. For example in Sedbergh the reading room was combined with the market house. This building dates to 1858. The market hall was originally on the ground floor under the arches. However, the building was altered in 2002 and the main library now occupies the ground floor.