From 8th to 13th October 2018 people across the UK are taking part in Libraries Week. Who’s Who is celebrating the thousands of vibrant libraries across the country by tracing the history of these institutions through our pages.
Libraries grant access to an immense range of reading material, and are a place to discover, learn and de-stress. Many Who’s Who biographies include reading in their recreations; ballerina Violetta Elvin, actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh, and MP Rt Hon. John Bercow all list it as one of their hobbies. Some biographees have very specific tastes in literature. Christopher Foyle, the Chairman of Foyle’s bookshop, enjoys books on the ‘scientific investigation of anomalous phenomena’ while former District Judge Paul Firth likes ‘anything except law books.’ Journalist Richard Cottrell spends his spare time maintaining his own private library.
The United Kingdom has a history of publicly accessible libraries spanning hundreds of years. The oldest surviving public library in Britain is Chetham’s Library in Manchester, founded in 1653. In this library books could not be lent out; the tomes were chained to bookcases, but visitors could read them by positioning themselves nearby on a portable stool. Chetham’s was governed by Feoffees, who acquired books for the library so that it would rival large University libraries. Christopher Hunt and Prof. Brian Pullan have been modern Feoffees.
The very first public lending library under the Free Libraries Act of 1850 was the Manchester Free Library, which became Manchester Central Library in 1934, designed by architect E. Vincent Harris. The founding of the British Library was instigated by the National Libraries Committee, chaired 1968-69 by Lord Dainton. Until recently chaired by Baroness Blackstone, the British Library is the largest national library in the world and houses over 150 million items.
Libraries are places of study, discovery and community. Celebrate Libraries Week 2018 by visiting one of the amazing public libraries in the UK.