Treasure of the week no. 29: A free library for Bradford

Report of the Finance and General Purposes Committee as to the operation of the Free Libraries Act.1868.  Printed by M. Field of Bradford. 23 pages.

JND 1/12 (Please quote this number if requesting this item when we reopen again.)

At a meeting of Bradford’s Finance and General Purposes Committee, held on 6th March, 1868, it was ‘Resolved that the Report of the Sub-Committee on the proposed Free Library, now read, be and the same is hereby approved, and adopted, and that the same be presented to the Council at their next Meeting … . (W. T. McGowen, Town Clerk.)’ The Council did approve the report and Bradford’s ‘Free’ (i.e. ‘Public’) Library opened in 1872.

The Sub-Committee was appointed ‘to inquire into and report upon, the working of the Free Public Libraries Act, in those Towns in which the Act is now in force.’ The Chair was John V. Godwin, an active proponent of Free Libraries. The public library is now very much part of the social landscape, but before the Public Library Act of 1850 people had to pay a subscription to use a library, either by becoming a member of an organisation, such as the Literary and Library Society, or by using a commercial ‘circulating’ library. The move to provide libraries ‘on the rates’ was hotly contested, especially by the limited number of those wealthy enough to pay for them! So the acceptance of the report was a momentous event.

The Sub-Committee had contacted 13 of the 28 towns in England and Scotland which had adopted the Act. To a list of twenty-one questions, “replies were furnished in the most cheerful and courteous manner.” The report had three tables. One gave the dates when the Act was adopted, composition of the management body, whether both Lending and Consulting (i.e. Reference) libraries were established and what other libraries existed in their area. Second: the amount produced by the rates, cost of land, buildings and books, and how met. Third: Opening hours, number of volumes, issues, security and loss. There were also statistics on art galleries.

The libraries consulted were Bolton, Cambridge, Oxford, Blackburn, Liverpool, Sheffield, Cardiff, Birmingham, Airdrie, Manchester and Salford. Much can be learned from these tables about the concerns people had about how a ‘free’ library would work, and about the early history of public libraries. Particularly interesting are the occupations of users, and what sort of books libraries stocked. Liverpool had a reading room that held 600 people, and the most consulted reference source were Patent Specifications.



View more historical images of Bradford Libraries across the years here:



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