Nottingham Libraries – The Early Years to the Universities.

Rumour has it that Britain’s first Sunday school opened in Nottingham in 1751 so it’s not too much of a surprise to discover that our first library could have been the Adult Sunday-school Library which opened here in 1789, for bible reading and ‘the secular arts of writing and arithmetic’. However our libraries emerged, it would be a long wait before we had our first free public library.

The Nottingham Subscription Library at Bromley House was, and remains, a wonderful asset for our literary city but what of those readers that couldn’t afford to join? Back in the 1820s it would have set you back five guineas for a share in the library (about £560 in today’s money) so what about the have-nots?

In 1824 another subscription library, The Artisans’ Library, opened in Nottingham and The Mechanics’ Institute and Library followed in 1837, but there was still no public library for the people. By the Mid-1830s operatives’ libraries were beginning to address our working men’s demand for an access to knowledge. Unlike the more conservative books at the Artisans’ Library and the Mechanics’ Institute, the operatives’ libraries stocked political and religiously challenging reads, at a cost that was half that of their more middle-class alternatives. The operatives’ libraries were run by the workers, providing a resource for union members and free thinkers.

Nottingham still boasted at least six of these working men’s libraries in the 1850s, as pubs were places where ideas and books could be exchanged. The lending libraries remained stocked by the punters who helped to build up collections that occasionally reached into the thousands. Newspapers at that time were heavily taxed and expensive, but the pub was a place where they could be read, and discussed, for free. During the mid-19th century our lace industry was thriving and many factories also housed their own workers’ libraries, though these were more religious in nature.

The Public Libraries Act was introduced in 1850, making it possible for public funds to be used to support public town libraries. It was left to those holding the local purse strings to decide if public money should be used for such a purpose. The people of Nottingham petitioned for a public library but none was forthcoming.

We had to wait until 1863 for the first serious attempt to provide a public library for the people of Nottingham, and even this proved unsuccessful. It was only after the Artisans’ Library found itself in financial difficulties that fate played its hand. The town was offered the library’s entire stock of books, about 10,000, if it would take on its liabilities. An agreement was reached and the Nottingham Free Library opened in 1867, using the rooms in Thurland Street previously used by the Artisans’ Library. It officially opened to the public on 13th April 1868, with 400 people signed up to join.

John Potter Briscoe was the Principal Librarian of the Nottingham Free Public Libraries. An original member of the Library Association, he was a leading figure in the development of professional librarianship and extended Nottingham’s services to provide books especially for children, giving birth to the Nottingham Library for Boys and Girls, which opened on Shakespeare Street in 1882 following a large donation from the hosiery manufacturer Samuel Morley. It was Britain’s first children’s library.

Nottingham has been well served for libraries ever since. Perhaps our most impressive library was the former Nottingham Central Library based at the Arkwright Building on Shakespeare Street. The Arkwright Building was built by Nottingham Corporation in the late 1870s to act as the buildings of University College. It was in this building that D. H. Lawrence studied for his degree. It ceased being our Central Library in 1977 and is now part of Nottingham Trent University.

We had a Book Lovers’ Library by 1900. Florence Boot (born Florence Rowe), her father a bookseller, introduced these lending libraries into Boots stores. The library counters were situated at the back of the shops so that patrons had to walk past the merchandise. The venture proved to be popular and by 1903 there were Book Lovers’ Libraries in 193 Boots branches. This number rose to 450 by the 1930s. Books with a racier content carried a red warning on their spine.

Since the 1930s the University of Nottingham has amassed an impressive collection of manuscripts, over 3 million of them. They now have more than 700 archive collections and 60,000 rare printed items. These are held by their Manuscripts and Special Collections which also has many special printed books. All items can be viewed in the Reading Room at King’s Meadow Campus, but only items from their East Midlands Collection may be borrowed.

Many of our modern libraries are unrecognisable from those early public places. Leading the way of modernity are our universities’ libraries to which I now turn my attention.

The University of Nottingham holds over one million print books and journals within eight libraries, with an additional collection of over 300,000 ebooks and 20,000 ejournals. A typical day will see their users borrow 2,000 books and access 15,000 ebook pages.

The Business Library on Wollaton Road, which supports Nottingham University Business School.

Denis Arnold Music Library supporting the Department of Music at University Park.

Djanogly Learning Resource Centre supports the School of Education and the School of Computer Science.

George Green Library is a new library which supports the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Science.

Greenfield Medical Library provides support for the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, as well as library services for Nottingham University Hospitals NHS trust staff.

Hallward Library supports the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Social Sciences.

James Cameron-Gifford Library supports the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, and the School of Biosciences.

Nottingham Trent University also has its own collections and archives, ordered in terms of their rarity, source, condition, form or subject. The majority of their special collections are relevant to recovery research in English literature, with many having a focus on labouring-class poetry, modern literary manuscripts or travel writing.

The Clifton Library houses their main archives and collections, all available for reference use in the library through prior arrangement. The collections include a Labouring Class Poetry Collection comprises of mostly 19th Century volumes of labouring-class poetry, and 70 volumes from the collection of Bloomfield enthusiast Alex Bridge. This comprises the Robert Bloomfield Collection, and the Brian Maidment Collection; 112 volumes of nineteenth century labouring class poetry. Other collections include: Laura (Riding) Jackson Collection, Colleen J McElroy Archive, Raymond Williams Collection and a Contemporary Writing Archive.

NTU’s superb city centre campus library is their Boots Library, a cutting-edge learning space that’s open 24-7 during term time. There’s even a roof garden. NTU also has a brand-new building and updated collection at Brackenhurst, and there have been major refurbishments at the City and Clifton site libraries.