‘The library was now the property of the citizens’: Bloomsbury Branch Free Library: 1892-2013


In 2013 Birmingham City Council announced the closure of Bloomsbury library because of a difficulty with the heating system.  I found this particularly sad because it was a favourite haunt of my childhood and youth. It now appears to have been the thin edge of a wedge of library closures. While there is currently a focus on the slashing of services at the new Library of Birmingham (and rightly so), the loss of local libraries should also be of concern to all of us.  It is good to know that Bloomsbury library is listed, so the building should survive in some form or another, but hopefully it won’t be sold to the planners and might continue in providing the service for which it was built.

The introduction of free libraries in the nineteenth century was a source of much civic pride and a great asset to the people of Birmingham across all classes.  Bloomsbury library was opened on June 4th, 1892. The site had been carefully chosen, situated on the tram routes for Nechells and Saltley it was very accessible. The architects were Cossins and Peacock, who were responsible for other buildings in the town, including the library in Moseley and the Ear, Nose and Throat hospital. I remember the library well, but really like this description from a report on its opening in the Birmingham Daily Post:

Built at a cost of £3700, it embraces a lending library, a small reference library and a cheerful and well lighted reading room. This room is fitted in a most approved style, the furniture and fittings being of Oregon pine

In his opening speech, the Mayor expressed his hope that the library  might be of great value to the inhabitants of that district (it was!) and that in the words of the late George Dawson he would remind them that the library was now the property of the citizens, and ask them to protect it and use it, not alone for their own benefit but for the advantage of the public at large.  In closing his speech, he revealed that  further libraries were soon to be opened at Spring Hill (also now closed), Small Heath, Harborne and, when land could be acquired, Balsall Heath. These were in addition to six free libraries already opened. Surely,  added the Mayor, no intelligent and unselfish ratepayer would think that the excess of the rate over a penny in the pound was an extravagance. Such institutions conferred on the community a benefit which it was very difficult to calculate, and it was especially to the poorer inhabitants that the benefits accrued. 

In a further speech, that is worth reiterating here, in the light of current cuts, Councillor Coombs added that there was no work connected with the life of the town that deserved greater attention than that of providing good books for the people. It was one of the means of bridging over the gulf between rich and poor, helping the struggling artisan and developing to the very highest extent those abilities with which a man or a woman was endowed. The love of books was a great blessing.

Please support our local libraries in any way you can. Once they’re gone, they’re lost forever.  Follow @FoLoB on Twitter for updates on proposed cuts to the Library of Birmingham. 


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