Leisure and the rise of the public library

Snape, Robert ORCID: 0000-0003-4229-0926 (1995) Leisure and the rise of the public library. Library Association, London. ISBN 185604131X

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Abstract

Whereas most histories of the British public library have focused upon its development as an institution primarily concerned with education, this book argues that the leisure function of the public library between 1850 and 1914 was not only its predominant aspect in quantitative terms but was also crucial to its popularity and survival. Based on the author?s doctoral research it demonstrates that the potential of public libraries to provide a socially acceptable form of leisure in urban areas was a powerful argument in the campaign for the 1850 Public Libraries Act and that fiction provision lay at the core of the public library service. By far the largest proportion of the books issued from public libraries was occupied by novels which were commonly found in both lending and reference departments. However, the provision of popular fiction in response to an almost overwhelming demand was controversial not only in the library profession but in wider society. The Great Fiction Question, as this debate became known, was actually two questions: should public libraries provide any fiction at all, and if so, what type of fiction? Some librarians wished public libraries to abandon fiction altogether, often because it was seen to undermine their professional credibility, while in both national and local political circles the notion of ?fiction on the rates? was a widely encountered form of attack. However, given that most public libraries provided fiction from the outset, the more pragmatic approach to the Great Fiction Question was to adopt an approach which would allow the purchase of literary and morally uplifting fiction while declining to purchase romances, sensation novels and cheap adventure stories. Although many librarians wished to follow this path they were often powerless to do so as library book purchases were, in most towns, chosen by a sub-committee of the town council. Using case studies of the public libraries of Blackkburn, Wigan and Darwen, this book shows that public library fiction provision was heavily influenced by the socio-political composition of the library committee and that responses to the Great Fiction Question ranged from the supply of as much popular fiction as possible in response to demand to attempts to refuse to purchase any novel considered by the selection committee considered to have no literary merit. The book also discusses the ways in which a perceived obligation to improve the cultural standard of fiction reading led the library profession to develop advisory and guidance services and also, in some areas, to work in co-operation with the National Home Reading Union. It also discusses other leisure elements of early public libraries which included games and smoking rooms

Item Type: Book
Additional Information: Full-text of this book is not available in this repository.
Divisions: University of Bolton Research Centres > Centre for Research for Health and Wellbeing
Depositing User: Scott Wilson
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2013 12:51
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2018 10:47
URI: http://ubir.bolton.ac.uk/id/eprint/387

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