The remarkable history of city's public libraries
Libraries are my second home. I have been so long in the world of books that I have assumed libraries will always be there. Not so.
The news now focuses on the likely closure of Anlaby Park Library, a branch I have never visited, though I can understand how much it means to the community.
For a short while I worked as a librarian, in some ways a frustrating job as you handle so many tempting books you never have the opportunity to read.
It was then I discovered the whereabouts of the small libraries scattered around Hull. Some were in schools, merely a couple of cupboards open in the evening, one for fiction, the other non-fiction.
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In those days it was thought too much fiction was an unbalanced diet and the number of novels you could borrow was restricted.
It all sounds very inadequate, but a limited choice had its advantages.
You were introduced to authors and subjects you had never previously considered.
The evening sessions were a cheerful social occasion, much looked forward to by the locals.
Some of these temporary libraries in schools were the embryos of later purpose-built libraries. Anlaby Park dates from 1964.
My favourite branch was in the Garden Village, a romantic oasis of warmth and light when snow covered all the surrounding trees.
The least appealing was Hedon Road, but, as nearby streets were demolished, its days were already numbered.
The library that made the greatest impact on me when I was still at school was Central Library in Albion Street, very different from what it has since become but a revelation to me of how many books there were in the world – and I could take most of them home to read.
During the war, paper was scarce and many of the books were pre-war, bound in forbidding institutional covers. But no one expected the colour and hype that has now become the norm for any book with any hope of attracting readers.
Hull's public libraries have a remarkable history.
Many ratepayers and councillors were lukewarm or hostile about such provision. After all, if you had the means you could join one of the private libraries which gave a social cachet to members.
In his book, History And Development Of Libraries In Hull (2002) Geoffrey Drury, son of a chief librarian, told the story of the struggle to provide a library service.
The mayor, William Henry Moss, and the Hull Advertiser campaigned for libraries in 1856-57, their arguments particularly stressing their advantage in drawing working men out of dram shops, with the consequent benefits of reducing poverty and crime.
The opposition, however, was loud and the proposal defeated.
It was another 15 years before the subject was raised again, this further delay earning Hull the notoriety of being "the largest provincial town in England still devoid of a public library".
After the plan had been rejected four times, James Reckitt stepped into the breach. He had the means and the will to take unilateral action. In order to prove a public library could be run on a penny rate he set up a library at his own expense on Holderness Road, subscribing a sum equal to a penny rate.
If the town would adopt the Public Libraries Act he would hand over the library free of charge to the corporation. His plan succeeded.
Central Library began life in the Church Hall in Baker Street until a suitable site became available in Albion Street. Fittingly, the foundation stone was laid by James Reckitt.
It was a dignified building, its original frontage still visible but now upstaged by the porticoed entrance to its modern extension. Some of us have happy memories of going in through the old front door.