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Loughborough Public Library Centenary 1905-2005

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Although Loughborough had a library before the turn of the century it had been a somewhat haphazard affair, ranging from a subscription library, begun in 1826, (housed in Baxter Gate) to a free library, opened in 1886 (housed in Greenclose Lane). Between 1867 and 1886 the town had no library facilities whatsoever.

In about 1902 the need for better accommodation was recognised and the following year Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropic millionaire, was approached in the hope that he might come to the rescue. Carnegie donated £5,000 for a new building on the condition that the Free Libraries Act (of 1856) was adopted. He also stipulated that a site should be donated for the building.

The site in Granby Street was given by Mr F R Griggs, and the building was opened by his father Joseph Griggs, on 21st June 1905. The building housed a reading room, reference department, lending library, children's library, museum and Librarian's house.

Compared to the former library (in Greenclose Lane), a steady increase in borrowers and issues began at once, although the growth of stock was hampered by the restriction placed upon income by the "penny rate" (which was abolished in 1919). As the name suggests this was a rate "not exceeding one penny" that was instigated by the Free Library Act of 1856, which would generate an income to provide stock for the library.

By 1910 the stock numbered only 10,494 volumes while the annual issue was nearly 60,000. The annual report for that year states, "the figures have reached such a high level that it would be unreasonable to expect much further increase in the future." This view appears to have been justified for several years until 1922 when the "open access" system was adopted (books being available to borrower from open shelves) - Loughborough being the first library in Leicestershire to take this step. Open access was successful and by 1923 the total issues had reached 75,000, and the heavier demand on the staff necessitated the appointment of a second assistant.

In 1936 the Borough boundaries were extended and a small branch library at Hathern was taken over from the County Library Authority. This branch was open for a few hours once a week with a book stock of 400 volumes. The building was less than adequate for its purpose and a stern struggle to maintain a regular service, often with the aid of candles and hurricane lamps, ensued. The Library Committee of the day decided to build a new branch library and in 1954 a new building on Greenhill was opened, with a book stock of over 2,500 volumes. This library was refurbished in 2004 and celebrations are being planned for later in 2005 in order to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

At Loughborough Library work continued apace with the appointment of James Swift as Borough Librarian. He saw the possibilities of libraries and a steady build up of stock began. By the time he left in 1942 the issues had risen by some 300% and the staff had increased to meet the new demands of the service.