This year Bradford Libraries will be celebrating 150 years of serving the people of Bradford.
When it first opened in June 1872, Bradford Public Library enabled people from all walks of life and of all ages to access information and education freely for the first time.
Since then the library service has developed to incorporate new technology alongside the offer of books, information and events. Now Bradford’s library services are available 24/7 online, and the library buildings are ‘people places’, at the heart of the communities they serve, a free safe space and a place to meet for all.
Before the Public Library Act was passed in 1850 people had to pay a subscription to use a library.
The Mechanics Institute had been established in this pioneering city in 1832 to provide education in technical subjects to working men, but in general, library services were only available to those wealthy enough to pay for them.
So the adoption of the Free Libraries Act by Bradford was a momentous occasion. Bradford was the 5th in Yorkshire to adopt the Libraries Act at a public meeting convened by the Mayor in 1871.
The Bradford Free Library was first opened in rented premises in Tyrrel Street. It was officially opened by Mayor Matthew Thompson with great pomp and ceremony on 15 June 1872. The lending department opened a year later in February 1873.
Rapidly expanding in size and greatly used, the library moved to Darley Street in 1878.
Butler Wood, Chief Librarian, who was the main figure in expanding and establishing the library in the 1880s stated to the regional newspapers “with our beautiful, well-stocked library, and the Technical College, Bradford is a centre of learning and culture as well as commercialism.”
The district has several Carnegie Libraries: Keighley celebrated 100 years in 2004, Ilkley in 2007 and Manningham in 2010.
There are now 29 Libraries across the Bradford District including City Library in Bradford City Centre and Local Studies in separate premises alongside West Yorkshire Archives.
This year is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements past and present of all the libraries across the Bradford District and there will be a plethora of events and activities taking place.
Cllr Sarah Ferriby, Bradford Council’s Executive Member for Healthy People and Places, said: “This is such an important celebration and is a great achievement and shows how valued they are in our communities. We know that libraries have the potential to make a major contribution to communities, education, life-long learning, employment, business support and health outcomes.
“Things have obviously changed over the years and the way we read books and research has changed but throughout this time our libraries have adapted what they offer and have proven how important they are for our residents and how they have helped them through some really challenging times.
“I hope people take the opportunity to share their stories with us and also celebrate this year with us at events that are set to take place over the year.”