This article came from Chronicle published March 1981. Page: 7


60 years of Public Library Service in Yeovil

Author: P.A.Swetman


In 1902, the American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, offered Yeovil £2,000 to found a public library on condition that the council would provide a site. The offer was not taken up and was withdrawn in 1914. Eventually, however, in 1920 the Public Library Act was adopted and Yeovil’s, first Public Library was planned.

The first Library Committee ‘found itself hedged in by difficulties on every side. People grew impatient at the apparent inaction, but free libraries do not grow like mushrooms in a Devon meadow’. The difficulties must have been almost insurmountable – there were no premises, no books and very little money but a ‘small single room’ in George Court (now the Borough Arcade) was acquired and with a donated nucleus of 3,000 books from ‘Everyman’s’ subscription library, Yeovil’s first public Library got off to a shaky start.

Although it has been said, with some justification, that as far as library provision goes Yeovil ‘has always provided too little, too late’ there is no doubt that the service, despite its shortcomings, was, and still is, much appreciated. There were 1,747 registered readers in 1922/3 who used that ‘small single room’ to choose a total of 47,676 books.

By 1928 the library was housed in new premises in King George Street but after only ten years it was reported that the service operated under ‘severe handicaps’ and that the shelves were ‘taxed to capacity’. It was, however, ‘confidently expected that a new Town Hall, offices, library and museum would shortly be erected on the Hendford Manor site’. There was an architectural competition and the winning design ‘hung for years in the library entrance hall, prompting the innocent to ask whereabouts in Yeovil all this grandeur was to be found, and cynics to express disbelief in its ultimate translation into reality’.

The cynics were right. The war put a stop to this particular plan for a new library, More plans were drawn up in the early 1960s and again ten years later, but Yeovil’s new library never got further than the drawing board. There were some improvements over the years. The Reading Room became a Reference Library and a separate Children’s Library was provided, but despite this the 1980 service still operates under ‘severe handicaps’ and the shelves are still. as ‘taxed to capacity’ as they were in 1938.

Mr.E.A.Batty, Borough Librarian and Curator from 1935 to 1969 closes his last, report with these word: ‘. . . the library is today providing more readers than ever before with better service than they have ever enjoyed before, despite the fact that nearly all its activities are carried out in what is often described, and not inaccurately, as ‘that funny little place’. The ‘funny little place’ is, in fact, a cultural asset of immense importance to the town which has, in the past, been often undervalued. Surely it is not too much to hope that this time there will be no weakening of the will to go forward and a building will be provided of which the citizens of Yeovil can be proud?’

Sorry, Mr.Batty, we’re still here! – only now the ‘funny little place’ copes with around 19,900 registered readers who, last year, borrowed almost 450,000 books!

With acknowledgements to the annual reports of Yeovil Borough Librarians especially those of Mr.E.A.Batty who held the post from 1935 – 1969

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