Part 2: Ipswich Library in Northgate Street

Have a look at the picture on the left. Do you recognise where it is? If you use the library in Northgate Street then you walk past it every time you enter the library through the original entrance since it forms one of the small, decorative features carved into the stonework.

When I went to the Suffolk Record Office branch in Gatacre Road, to find out about the history of the library, I discovered that I could follow the progress of the new building just by reading the yearly reports of the Corporation's Museum, Art Gallery, and Free Library Committee. There was also a nice account of the opening. Here, I have only reproduced the bits that relate to the new library, though I have left one or two other things in where I found them interesting or amusing.


In June last the Committee made a special report as to the application to the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, and there is nothing further to report in this connection at present.


It may be mentioned that the application made by your Committee to the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust for a grant for the purpose of building a new Central Library is now under consideration by the Trust, who recently sent their Secretary and a Library Expert to examine and report upon the Library system in Ipswich.


With reference to the report on the proposed new Central Library presented to the Council on 9th August last, your Committee have had further communications with the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust upon the subject of the sketch-plans, with the result that some minor modifications have been made. The Trust have now intimated their general approval of the plans.

Alderman W. F. Paul has, in accordance with his kind promise, conveyed the site in Northgate Street to the Corporation for the purpose of the new building.


The Committee regret to have to report that the Chief Librarian, Mr Ogle, is suffering from over-work and nervous exhaustion. On the advice of his Medical Attendant, Mr Ogle has been given three months' holiday, together with a grant of £60 towards his expenses. It is hoped that the rest will entirely restore him to health.

The Committee presented a Report with regard to the proposed new Central Library on the 15th December last. There is nothing further to report on the matter.


In connection with the proposed New Central Library, The Carnegie United Kingdom Trust have confirmed their promise to make a grant of £22,500 on the terms already reported to the Council. The sketch plans have been approved by the Trust, and detailed plans are now in course of preparation by the architect. It is hoped that it will be possible to commence building operations in the course of the current year.

In the course of the summer both the Reference and Lending departments were thoroughly dusted and cleaned at a cost of about £70.


The erection of the new Central Library was commenced in February last. The work has been somewhat delayed by the building strike, but it is expected to be completed ready for use in the early part of next year.


The erection of the new Central Library has proceeded during the year, and it is expected to be ready for the formal opening in a few months, when Sir Charles Sherrington, M.A., M.D., D.Sc., President of the Royal Society, has kindly consented to perform the ceremony.

This next report was the first after the new building was opened. It was titled "First Annual Report of the Library Committee". The libraries were no longer under the control of a committee shared with the museum, but now had their very own; seemingly, a condition laid down by the Carnegie Trust. This is very much an abridged version; in particular, I've misssed out sections on Issues and Borrowers, the Reference Library, and the programme of lectures.


Your Committee begs to submit the following Report upon the work done in connection with the Public Libraries, together with the Balance Sheet, for the year ended 31st March, 1925. The year, which has seen the opening of the New Central Library building and the consequent remarkable increase in the work of the Libraries, has been a noteworthy one in the history of the institution.


In accordance with the requirements of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, your separate Library Committee was appointed in May, 1924, and the new Chief Librarian, appointed in March, took up his duties on June 1st. The period prior to the opening of the new building was fully occupied with work preparatory to the move and the adoption of open access, including the purchase and preparation of an initial new stock of 1,500 volumes for the Children's Library, the writing of new borrower's tickets for all borrowers, and the withdrawal of 1,800 dirty and worn out volumes. The Libraries were closed from August 4th to August 16th for the staff holidays, and again on August 25th prior to the transfer of the stock to the new premises.

The Central Library was formally opened on September 3rd by Sir Charles Sherrington, G.B.E., O.M., the Rt. Hon. Viscount Ullswater, P.C., G.C.B., and Col. J.M. Mitchell, O.B.E., being amongst those present. His Worship the Mayor (J. R. Staddon, Esq.) presided. The premises were open for inspection on that evening, when they were visited by over 5,000 people and the full ordinary work of the Libraries was resumed on September 4th.

From the first, great and increasing interest was shown by the public, and during the first month the number of borrowers from the Central Library increased from 2,698 to 4,651. The greater facilities offered in the new premises, particularly open access, have been much appreciated by readers, and the publicity attached to their inauguration served to bring the work of the Libraries to the notice of many who had not previously made use of them.


Prior to September it was not possible to make any special provision for juvenile readers, and so the Children's library may be regarded as a fresh development. It has been perhaps the most successful part of your Committee's work. 67,401 voulumes have been issued since September (issues before September were included in the general lending library statistics and so cannot be shown separately), a daily average of 452. When it is remembered that (excepting during the school holidays and on Saturdays when it is open all day) the department is open only in the evenings on week days, it will be seen that it has been a very busy room. In addition 21 periodicals and a small reference collection (used by at least 1,500 children) are provided, and any book on the shelves may be read in the room. It is felt, therefore, that the Children's Library is playing an important part in the lives of the young people of the town and helping greatly to foster a love of books and a desire for knowledge which should assist the educational development and provide a healthy and fruitful means of recreation.

Where it talks about "open access", this means choosing your books directly from the shelves. Prior to 1924 it was a closed-access system, where you would select the books you wanted from a printed catalogue and they would then be fetched for you by the staff.

Although Sir Charles Sherrington (1857-1952) probably isn't a name you are familiar with, he was a famous scientist, and at the time he opened the library was Professor of Physiology at Magdelen College, Oxford. He was also president of the Royal Society. In 1932 he was awarded a Nobel prize.

This next piece is taken from the report for 1929-1930. I thought it was interesting because it shows a breakdown of issues by subject area. It is for all the libraries in Ipswich, that is Lending, Children's, and Reference at the central library, and the branch libraries at Stoke, Rose Hill, Springfield, Westerfield, New Estate, and Whitton. (How did they work out the figures for reference books?)


1st April 1929 - 31st March 1930

General 14583
Philosophy 3480
Religion 7841
Sociology 18439
Philology 7431
Natural Science 16728
Useful Arts 21412
Fine Arts 29839
Literature 18571
History, Travel, Biography 63282
Fiction 314232
Total 515838

That's enough for now. Perhaps, at a later date, I'll add a third section to deal with the post-war years and local government re-organisation in the seventies.

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23rd August 2004