The English Public Library 1850-1939

Introductions to Heritage Assets

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Among the many important political and social reforms of the mid 19th century concerning working conditions, public health and education was the Public Libraries Act of 1850. However, while this allowed municipal boroughs in England and Wales to establish public libraries, few were built until Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 precipitated the setting up of several dozen.

During the 1880s and 90s private philanthropy saw the construction of a vast number of small and medium sized libraries, and by 1914, 62 per cent of the England’s population lived within a library authority area.

This selection guide looks at the external architecture of the libraries built under these and later initiatives, and how they were fitted out and used as access to their book-stock was opened up to readers.


  • Introduction
  • Historical background
  • Development of the building type
  • Change and the future
  • Further reading
  • Acknowledgements

Additional Information

  • Series: Guidance
  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Pages: 20
  • Product Code: HEAG135


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