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Story of New Mills Library

New Mills Library

The first Acts of parliament did little to encourage small towns to open libraries, but in New Mills the desire for further education was so strong that in 1852 a ‘People’s Institute’ was established. Little is known of this original institute until in 1860, it was transferred to a Market street house and became the ‘Mechanics Institute.’
It contained a library, newsroom and class rooms in which evening classes were held. Its expenses were met from subscriptions. It proved to be so successful that lager premises were sought, and at a public meeting it was decided to build a public hall for educational and community purposes. Public subscription raised two thousand five hundred pounds and the Public Hall containing a newsroom, classrooms and a large meeting hall, capable of holding five hundred people was built and opened in 1871.
In 1874 Alderman John Mackie became president of the Mechanics Institute, which in 1879 was transferred to the Public Hall, becoming the centre of educational work in New Mills, concentrating on science classes, mainly chemistry for young men in the calico printing and dyeing industry which was a major employer locally. A cottage in High street was used as a chemical laboratory. Eventually evening classes were taken over by the School Board, and in 1889 the Technical Instruction Act led to the establishment of an organised science day school in New Mills, the first in Derbyshire. In the same year the Mechanics Institute Committee transferred its powers to the School Board.
In 1882, a new Public Libraries Act, which extended the powers of authorities, but there was still a rate limitation of one penny and the acts were only permissive. The new Act allowed authorities to provide libraries, museums, schools of science, art galleries and schools of art, and indicated how the library movement was intimately bound up with the movement for further education. The Act also allowed authorities to combine for the purpose of providing libraries, but despite negotiations with other authorities in the district no partnership agreement was entered into. The New Mills Local Board adopted the Public Libraries Act in 1893. In the following year New Mills became an Urban District and the Public Hall was transferred from the trustees to the council and became the Town Hall. At the same time the council took over the library of the Mechanics Institute. The Town Hall had to be enlarged and in September 1899, an extension costing two thousand pounds was opened.
The library and newsroom were accommodated in what is now the council chamber. It was, at that time, a small library with a part-time librarian, the spending power being limited to the product of a penny rate, about one hundred pounds. The council however, received assistance from Mr James Hibbert who contributed five hundred pounds towards the cost of the building and provided the majority of the books.
The library was opened in February, 1900, and contained 3,500 volumes. By 1905 this number had risen to 6,000 volumes. The periodical list included six daily newspapers, nineteen weekly and seven monthly periodicals, and the reading room was probably one of the most important parts of the library. The library and reading rooms were open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. later these hours were curtailed as far as the library was concerned.
The new home in the Town Hall proved too small and the council decided a new building was necessary. Andrew Carnegie who was at this time giving much of his wealth to building libraries, agreed to give two thousand pounds towards the cost on condition that it should not have cost the rate payers anything. Mr Henry Barber then chairman of the Libraries Committee gave the site adjoining the Town Hall and at last the library had a home of its own in a separate building. The siting of the library has been criticised because of the steep hill which has to be climbed to reach it, but it must be remembered that it was the only site available at the time which met the conditions of the Carnegie grant, and it had the merit of being near the seat of civic government, in the Town Hall.

The library under construction

The new building was opened in June, 1910. The stock was nearly 7,000 books, of which 1,248 had been transferred from the old Mechanics Institute library. Mr Hibbert collected two hundred and twenty six pounds with which 1,684 books were purchased. An indicator served to record whether or not a book was ‘in’ and the catalogue was the only guide to the stock. It is not surprising that the number of books issued was limited. From 1900 to 1910 the total number of books issued was 85,000, a yearly average of 8,500 and a daily average of 38. Of these 91 percent were fiction and 9 percent non fiction. No children’s books were included in the stock.
In 1919 a new Act allowed county councils to become library authorities and removed the limit of a rate of one penny in the pound which could be spent. Little advantage was taken of this concession until the economic crisis of the late twenties when the use being made of the library increased to such an extent that a general reorganisation took place and the library was converted to an open access system.
From 1929 to 1935 little progress would seem to have been made. The stock was practically static as the average annual expenditure on books was around twenty pounds compared with an annual expenditure of thirty five pounds on periodicals. The council in common with many other authorities at that time appear to have regarded the provision of reading matter in the periodical form for the benefit of the large masses of unemployed as a principal function of the library. In 1937, however the situation had improved to such an extent that in the year 743 volumes were purchased at a cost of one hundred and twenty five pounds. The total stock in 1938 was 5,500 books, and the total annual issue was 56,000 books. There were 2,200 readers. Following the end of the war and the return to civilian life of the service men, a demand for educational books arose and this was reflected in the rise of the non fiction percentage. The peak of demand was reached in 1948 -9 when the annual total issue was 112,500 books with 19 percent non fiction. In 1949 to 1950 out of an estimated population of 8,500, 54 percent were library users. The year 1947 saw the formation of a junior library and in the first year, 11,000 children’s books were issued, rising to17,000 in 1949-50. The library has continued to the present day to be one of the best used and most popular institutes in New Mills.

Andrew Carnegie made his fortune from steel. In the 1870s, he founded the Carnegie Steel Company, a step which cemented his name as one of the “Captains of Industry”. By the 1890s, the company was the largest and most profitable industrial enterprise in the world. Carnegie sold it to J.P. Morgan in 1901. He devoted the remainder of his life to large-scale philanthropy, with special emphasis on local libraries, world peace, education and scientific research. He is widely regarded as the second richest man in history.

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