Thursday 11 October 2018

Cheshire Libraries - Part One

Libraries Week takes place each October to celebrate the nation's much-loved libraries.  Here is a flavour of some of the archives held at Cheshire Record Office showing how libraries have changed over the years, and how they have been bringing communities together for centuries in a love of books and reading.

We have an account of how pleased people were to have the Free Public Library opened in Macclesfield. Published in 1888 and gathered from coverage in the Macclesfield Courier and Herald newspaper, A Walk Through the Public Institutions of Macclesfield (ref: 010285) states that,
"Through the munificence of Mr. David Chadwick, formerly M.P. for the borough, Macclesfield possesses a free library and reading room quite commensurate to the wants of the inhabitants."
On the day the library ownership passed to the town,

  "A procession was formed and thereafter proceeded from the Town Hall to Park-green, where Mr Chadwick handed a gold key to the mayor in token of possession of the building...the library was opened amid loud huzzahs."

People's appreciation of their local library can be seen in the care they took of its books.  In 1896 the librarian at Middlewich recorded that,
"The Result of Stock-taking this year is highly satisfactory.  Though the library has been in existence for more than seven years, not a single volume remains unaccounted for, and less damage has been done to the books this year than during any previous year."
However all libraries will occasionally have borrowers who do not take as much care.  Nantwich Library's Committee (ref. LUN 5/6) dealt with this in 1930 when it resolved that,
"Printed notices threatening the prosecution of persons cutting and defacing papers and magazines, be obtained and exhibited in the Reading Room."
 Three years later damage had moved on to theft, when the Committee decided to have
"A notice exhibited in the Library offering a reward for information leading to the apprehension of persons removing books and papers from the Reading Room."
At Knutsford, the Library Committee (ref. LUK 4906/2) decided in 1908 to restrict lending to people who didn't take care of their books:
"In the case of books being returned in a damaged condition the Librarian should report at once to the Committee, and refuse further books to the borrower." 
At that time, libraries had to consider the health of their borrowers as well as the books.  Neston Library's rules (ref. LUNe 4797/9) note in bold type that,
"Books will not be lent to Borrowers for houses in which there is any Infectious Disease, and in the event of the occurrence of Infectious Disease, must not be returned without the Librarian being notified."

We are lucky to have better medical treatments available nowadays, and also to have fairer conditions at work.  The records from Knutsford Library's Committee book shows - in the days before anti-discrimination laws - that the resignation of a Miss Darlington as Librarian was discussed at the meeting of March 30th 1908.  Less than two weeks later an advert appeared in the Knutsford Guardian: "WANTED - LIBRARIAN. The Council invite applications from Men for the post of LIBRARIAN."
A committee meeting at Nantwich in November 1933 noted the Librarian vacancy caused by a Miss Price's resignation but the next meeting resolved,
"That the Committee be recommended to advertise for applications for the position of Librarian (male or female) at a salary of £120 per annum, out of which the Librarian must provide and pay all assistance he or she may require in carrying out the duties of the office other than the cleaning of the premises...The hours of duty be 9am to 8pm."
With these terms and conditions, perhaps the Committee was asking quite a lot!

In Part Two next week we will look at how libraries have changed over the years, and you can see how well your local library was doing compared to others in Cheshire.  For now, we wish you a Happy Libraries Week!

All these documents and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.  

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