Which side is living in the past in the great library debate?

“….this is very obvious from the debate which took place in the Leeds Town Council when a memorial in favour of a public library was brought forward in 1861.  Councillor Newton, for example, complained that those who voted for the library would not be those who would pay for it, and that the additional tax would fall very heavily on the middle-class ratepayer.  He went on to argue that the libraries already existing were decaying for lack of support, and that “the working classes should be taught to rely a little on themselves.”  Alderman Wilson was opposed to a compulsory contribution for educational purposes, and believe that “the working classes already had the opportunity of obtaining all the knowledge that was necessary to them.” Mr Yewdall said a 1d. rate would cost hom 50s. a year, and he was not prepared to pay it.  Councillor Stead added his impression that a public library was “merely a shelter for a lot of idle fellows to spend their time in.” [my emphasis]

(History of Public Libraries in Great Britain 1845-1975 by Thomas Kelly)

150 years later and the same arguments are being used.  It seems like the opponents of free libraries are the ones stuck in the past.


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