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Public Libraries

961 of 1157 nominations


Public Libraries

Is this an icon?


Public Libraries

The late Catherine Cookson once said in a TV interview that authors owed a tremendous debt of gratitude to the libraries, without which many of them would never have been read. Having access to books free of charge has exerted an immeasurable effect on the educational abilities of people who can’t afford to buy them (and many others besides). It was with precisely this in mind that a parliamentary bill that became the Public Libraries Act 1850 was drafted by two Liberal MPs, William Ewart and Joseph Brotherton. The cost implications of providing a library service meant that the revolution was slow to spread to the regions outside the big cities, but eventually most towns of reasonable size had at least one. Public libraries founded by charitable donation predated the Act. A collection in Manchester, Chetham’s Library, established in 1653 by a local merchant, claims to be the oldest such institution in the English-speaking world. In 2000, a specially minted commemorative 50p piece was issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the legislation that gave us this rich and indispensable resource.


Your comments

Our free and comprehensive public library system is an essential component of the nation's improved education and literacy over the past century.

copland smith

When you hear "Public Library" do you think of English-ness, or of your local public library. I'd suggest while they do play an important part in our local communities, libraries are more local than national, and aren't really an icon.
Anna Stone

I suppose it could be argued that it is an English icon, if the Welsh don't mind, as the Public Libraries Act (1850) originally allowed the possibility for local authorities in England and Wales to establish public libraries. However, the Scots also have a claim to it because although the Act was not extended to Scotland and Ireland until 1853 one of the sponsors of the original Bill - William Ewart - was Scottish.

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My nomination is the garden shed.