I thought that I’d have a little pop into Leicester Central Library to see what their collection of local studies books were like. It doesn’t open until midday on Wednesdays, which doesn’t feel an entirely ideal arrangement for the local denizens.
The ground floor is mostly fiction and computers. Leicester had a free library on Wellington Street by the late nineteenth century, but it was the formidable and brilliant Andrew Carnegie who gave £12,000 towards the cost of a bigger and more spacious building. Carnegie’s only requirement of note was that the library was funded by the rates and the council willingly accepted his offer. The philanthropist also turned up at the opening of the library in 1905 where a large formal gathering turned out and it’s somewhere that still feels a fit for purpose well-designed building.
There’s a one-way system through the fiction section with one person only at a time. It feels a little excessive, but I appreciate the efforts of the library to keep people safe. When the library opened, the local newspaper said that it was far better that “the average shoe operative, factory worker or shop assistant should spend his leisure hours with Dickens, Thackeray, Scott or George Elliot rather than soak in a pub or hang around street corners.”
The Leicester Daily Post was also very enthusiastic about the opening of the new library, noting that the old building on Wellington Street had 6,000 books in the lending library and 3,000 reference books when it had opened in 1871, but there were now 23,000 books in the lending library and 17,000 reference books. It was expressed with pride that in the new library that the ladies had their own reading room and that “this is practically the last word in free libraries”.
After going up in the lift (I couldn’t immediately find the stairs), I felt that this was more interesting, the reference and local studies section on the first floor.
Unusually tables had to be reserved, which seemed completely unideal, but I went over to reserve a table and the staff were helpful. The local studies collection is very good, a decent selection of different titles and they were shelved in a logical manner. It was also quite interesting being seated near to the photocopier as the staff spent a lot of their time dealing with complaints from customers that they photocopier had photocopied something they didn’t want.
Anyway, a perfectly decent library, although they have given so much space over to the computers that they have relatively little seating space for readers, which definitely isn’t at all ideal. The staff were friendly though and I felt that the book selection was decent enough, so nothing for me to complain about.