Free Libraries at Heart of Learning and Culture. Bradford Libraries Celebrating 150 Years 1872 – 2022

Bradford Libraries Service has come a long way since the city’s first public library opened 150 years ago.

When it first opened in June 1872, the Public Library enabled people from all walks of life and of all ages to access information and education freely for the first time.

Since then the Library Service has developed to incorporate new technology alongside the offer of books, information and events.

Today’s library users can borrow e-books and e-audiobooks, practice driving theory tests online, using a library card; trace family trees at the touch of a button; access the world’s biggest online database of pop music writing; or download the BorrowBox app.

The district’s library services are available 24 hours online, and the library buildings are ‘people places’, at the heart of the communities they serve, a free safe space and a place to meet.    

Early beginnings

Before the Public Library Act was passed in 1850 people had to pay a subscription to use a library.

The Mechanics Institute had been established in this pioneering city in 1832 to provide education in technical subjects to working men, but in general, library services were only available to those wealthy enough to pay for them.

So the adoption of the ‘Free Libraries Act’ by Bradford was a momentous occasion. Bradford was the 5th town in Yorkshire to adopt the Libraries Act at a public meeting convened by the Mayor in 1871.

The ‘Bradford Free Library’ was first opened in rented premises in Market Street. It was officially opened by the Mayor Matthew Thompson on 15 June 1872.

The lending department opened a year later in February 1873.

Quickly expanding in size and greatly used, the library moved to Darley Street in 1878.

Chief Librarian, Butler Wood, who was the main figure in expanding and establishing the library in the 1880’s stated to the regional newspapers: ‘with our beautiful, well stocked library, and the Technical College, Bradford is a centre of learning and culture as well as commercialism.’

Across the district

The district has several Carnegie Libraries – built with money donated by Scottish-American philanthropist Andre Carnegie. Keighley celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004, Ilkley in 2007 and Manningham in 2010.

There are 29 Libraries in the Bradford District including City Library in Bradford’s City Park and Local Studies in separate premises alongside West Yorkshire Archives.

Join in our celebrations!

Do you have a special memory of Bradford Library?

What are the people, places, stories and memories that have shaped your library? Help us to tell the story of Bradford Libraries in our 150th year.

Please share your memories with us to celebrate the enduring role of libraries alongside all he changes of the last 150 years.

To share your memories of using libraries in the Bradford district email

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