Jan 5 2012: A View of Aspley Public Library, Nottingham (from The Childrens’ Encyclopedia, c.1950s)

This image, taken sometime during the 1950s at Aspley Public Library in Nottingham, is used in The Childrens’ Encyclopedia, published by Waverley, as an illustration of libraries in general, and its caption summarises the services they can provide: “The British public library service celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1950, and in England one out of every four people, including many children, are registered as borrowers. The total stock of books is some 42 million! The librarians state that the majority of readers handle the volumes with care, and fortunately such ‘bookmarks’ as a kipper and a rasher of bacon, which were left in books returned to a library in Yorkshire, are not in common use!”.

As a quirky snapshot of general civility and a tribute to a deeply rooted (but currently threatened) service, this is actually quite hard to improve upon, except to note that the numbers of both borrowers and books has no doubt vastly increased since these figures were published in the early 1950s. Since some among us (primarily politicians, sadly) seem incapable of comprehending the essential difference between a library and the access enjoyed by around 70% of the UK population to a monopolistic online bookselling service, the civility represented by these places may only remain with us as long as we are prepared to fight for them. I realise as I type this that I’m not entirely certain Aspley still has a library.

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