The history of lending books in Blantyre can be traced back as far as 1897. By the 1890’s books could be bought at any of the nine local booksellers, stationers or newsagents, but it was a relatively new concept to be able to go into a public library and hire out a book.
The Blantyre Parish and Circulating Library was opened in Old Parish Church Halls, Main Street in 1897, just 4 years after the halls were built. The annual subscription was five shillings, a hefty charge for lowly Blantyre mining wages. The history of the reading room can be read in detail here https://blantyreproject.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/the-circulating-library/
It was not until 1921 that the County Libraries Service was established and not until the 1930’s was Blantyre considered for such a public library. Construction of Blantyre’s library commenced in 1938 at a site in Calder Street, directly opposite the Miner’s Welfare institute. Just six months previous to the contraction, homes at this location had been accidentally burned down, so the library was a fitting plan to provide a valuable public service. From 1938 until 1955, the building only had a bare, exposed steel frame and proved a popular playing ground for children.
In 1955 construction recommenced with a budget of £17,500, a considerable sum. The library was opened on the 8th July 1955 by Sir John Mann, CBE. Much of the ceremony was held in the nearby Miners Welfare Centre. The library contained 26,000 volumes of books and was the sixth library to be opened since the end of WW2. Mr W.R Watt handed over a gold key symbolising the Architects completion of their task. This was subsequently passed to Edward Daly after the ceremony for safe keeping. (The original ceremonial key was returned to the building in 1993 by Edward Daly’s grandson. His mother had kept it displayed, but he felt the need to return it after her death.) Dedication prayers were also offered at the ceremony.
Sir John commented that no other public building gave a better value for money than a library. The volumes of books had been carefully selected to cater for all tastes. Members also had access to another 400,000 books through the other county libraries using a co-lending system, ordering in on advance. Sir John said, “This to me suggests the bringing of a wonderful service to the people young and old alike in this area and I feel certain it will be highly appreciated. There is no doubt that books can, as no other agency can, provide mental and spiritual stimulus through contact with great minds of all ages.”
Attractively decorated and well lit the new building comprised a lending department of 2,300 sq ft, a children’s room and reference room of a further 480 sq ft together with librarians room, staff room and work room. Mr Peter Grant was the first librarian.
The Public Libraries and Museum Act of 1964 made it compulsory for local authorities to provide a local library service. The library remained in the hands of Lanarkshire County Council until 1975, when after local government reorganisation Blantyre, along with several other towns merged as part of Hamilton District Libraries.
Pictured is a rare photo of the inside of Blantyre Library at Calder Street. Looking from the Lending Library to the Reference room. The library was well used. The children’s library was through the entrance and off to the left. The linoleum floors made a familiar noise when treaded upon, in a building that commanded silence. Loads of people I’m sure will have happy memories of the excitement and choice of picking your books for the next fortnight.
In 1996 South Lanarkshire Council was formed, the fifth largest council in Scotland. There were 25 libraries and 5 mobile libraries recognised at that time and further reorganisation. Around this time the libraries were computerised, removing the need for paper membership cards.
After the turn of the Millennium, the Calder Street library closed (pictured in 2005 by Robert Stewart) moving to the vacant premises at the corner of Glasgow Road and Victoria Street, formerly occupied by Casper’s nightclub.
Space had to be made for computers, which led to less space for books. Blantyre library’s Learning Centre was amongst the first centres to be opened in South Lanarkshire. Unfortunately, the entire reference and reading room had to go to make way for it. Much of Blantyre’s heritage is found in other libraries. Information Technology is now also a way of life in Blantyre library with free internet access. In addition to books, members can now borrow story books, CDs and videos. Borrowing books is still free, unless you bring them back late of course!
Thanks to Jaqueline Corbrick at Blantyre library for assisting me with much of the information in this article.