I recently came across this image of a book labeled with a Londonderry Public Library stamp from 1809. As far as I know this is the only public library book in the collection. This got me wondering about the history of the public library in the UK. While I have not done extensive research I was able to find out some interesting information about the implimentation of legislation that would fund public libraries throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.
In the 1840’s three men; William Ewart, Joseph Brotherton and Edward Edwards started a campaign to develop a system of public libraries in England. Ewart and Brotherton were Liberal MP’s facing a conservative House of Commons who at the time were of the opinion that “people have too much knowledge already: it was much easier to manage them twenty years ago; the more education people get the more difficult they are to manage”. As a self-taught man who worked his way into being an Assistant to the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum, Edwards saw the implimentation of this law as a very valuable endever.
Luckily after several years and much discussion the Public Libraries Act became law in 1850, giving the boroughs of London with more than 10,000 people libraries for public use. That legislation was later extended to Scotland and Ireland in 1853.
Obviously from the date stamped on the book shown above Londonderry had a grasp of the importance of public libraries prior to this legislation. While it is unknown how available books truly were to the public, the inclusion of this volume in the collection contributes to the history of the collection as well as Derry.