Turning the pages of time
Hundreds of small branch libraries across England have been transferred to communities during the past five years.
The re-structuring of library services by county councils and other unitary authorities has been controversial, driven by the need to find budget savings rather than a desire to improve the service; but in many areas, success stories have emerged.
Kibworth Community Library, now operated by a charitable trust, is at the heart of its community,
Books and manuscripts have been written and read for thousands of years. They are a major means of recording historical facts, information, ideas and stories, and making these vast resources available to other people. Fiction has its place alongside real events, discoveries and debate. ation in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries provides alternative means for sharing facts and fiction, the printed and written word continue to be vitally important to individuals and society in all its sectors.
People down the centuries with the inclination and means have collected books and manuscripts. Before the twentieth century these libraries were for the private use of owners or selected groups such as in monasteries and universities.
Leicestershire's earliest 'public' library was probably the medieval Town Library which was moved from St Martin's Church to the Guildhall in 1632. It contained nearly one thousand books, mostly on religious themes, and can still be seen today.
The larger country houses also built up libraries, and professional people acquired books to support their work. Near to Kibworth, it is known that there was a fine library at Gumley Hall created by Joseph Cradock (1742-1826).
There would have been similar libraries in Kibworth Hall, the Old House, and in the homes of clergymen and medical practitioners. G W Barratt, a trader in Kibworth Beauchamp's High Street in the early 1900s advertised as a 'Dealer in Rare Books, Valuation of Libraries Undertaken', so opportunities were available to service libraries.
The nineteenth century saw a gradual expansion in education and the desire to read, learn and apply knowledge. A 'reading room and library' was established in Kibworth and settled in the Village Hall shortly after its completion in 1866.
It is not clear what books, as distinct from newspapers, were available at that time. Trade directories in the early 1900s for Kibworth show that one or perhaps two shops listed the sale of books amongst their wares.
The private sector saw an opportunity after the First World War to lend books. The Timson family were caretakers at the Village Hall and lived next door, rent free, at 13 Station Street. They opened a shop and small library on their premises in the mid-1930s. It was run by their son, Alan Timson (born 1915-16).
No one today
seems to know where the library books came from, though it appears that none of them were new. Alan would charge 1d (one old
penny) or so per book per week, and there were fines for keeping a book over
the allotted time.
shop moved at the end of the 1930s to 47 High Street, with the family living
behind the shop. Alan had a large
tricycle and regularly delivered his library books to customers in their homes. Mrs Timson and other family members would
'mind' the shop when Alan was doing his rounds.
What were these books? Older residents of Kibworth remember that the most popular library books had the theme of 'romance'. However, there were other novels as well. Books were displayed on open shelves on the inside walls of the shop. A fire occurred one day next door and the photograph (overleaf) shows the Timson shop at th e time, with books displayed in the window.
Was this lending library service successful as a business? No one has been able to answer that, though there are several suggestions that the shop and library existed to provide Alan, who had several disabilities, with a useful job and some independence rather than to make a profit. Kibworth people continued to use this lending library through the 1940s and early 1950s. Memories of borrowing children's books when they were young have been recorded from adults living today. Apparently, the shop also sold a variety of new items, including books, jigsaws, fireworks (in November), and bric-a-brac.
Early Public Libraries
An Act of Parliament in 1850 gave limited authorisation to local councils to fund libraries and gradually some were opened in the larger towns. However, it was not until the spring of 1923 that Leicestershire County Education Authority started the considerable task of setting up library centres in rural villages. At first these centres were mainly in schools. Books were purchased and supplied at quarterly intervals: around fifty books were packed into a large wooden box for distribution.
Nearby, Smeeton Westerby Village School first received library books in 1926. The County's managing committee name changed in 1928 to 'Leicestershire County Library Committee'. Then on 29 September 1929 a library with its own premises in Abbey Street was established in Market Harborough, initially with a stock of 1060 books. Records show that arrangements with the Kibworth Church of England School (now the Old School Surgery in Station Street) had been agreed to make library books available to the local community. The first consignment to Kibworth was on 11 June 1929 when 37 books were delivered (by this same date Smeeton's allocation had risen to 97).
Book stocks were changed approximately each quarter year and Kibworth was receiving at least fifty books each time. The typical system in Kibworth was to open the library to the public on Friday afternoons after the school children had left. Clearly, the goodwill of the headmaster was vital for making the small library effective. It appears that no charge was made for borrowing a library book.
The Oddfellows Hall
The next, and important, step was use of the Oddfellows Hall in Paget Street as a public library. This initiative required the collaboration of the headmaster's wife, Doris Welton. The Oddfellows Hall was hired for two afternoons each week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. It opened as a public library in 1958. The hall was fitted out with five sets of shelves, each protected with a cage front during the week when the library was closed. There was, of course, the famous 'eye' (a symbol of the Oddfellows' organisation) painted on the main room's ceiling. Children visiting this 'new' library were cautious about this eye looking down at them!
fresh arrangement was made with Leicester County Libraries to supply books and
this was a key development in scale for Kibworth. It was estimated that up to 600 new or nearly
new books were made available at any one time, and these now included
children's books. A proportion of books
were changed at regular intervals by Gordon Belton operating from the Leicester
headquarters. Lending was free to all
registered borrowers and there were no fines for overdue books at that time. Mrs Welton was paid by the library service for this duty in later years. Mr Belton once asked her "Kibworth never loses
children's books! Why is that?" The answer was because Mr Welton was the
local headmaster and would make sure library books were returned.
Fiction continued to be a favourite section of the library. Mrs Eva Fox (wife of Glacier Mint's chief Eric Fox), living at The Knoll in Fleckney Road, would send her chauffeur to the Oddfellows Hall library to collect books on her behalf. Mrs Welton regularly had to choose four books for Mrs Fox and Mrs Fox's mother.
Kibworth's New Public Library
In 1964 a new Act of Parliament was passed which consolidated all previous statutes on public libraries. This Act authorised extended and clearer powers for local authorities in providing library services.
The Market Harborough library now had Kibworth within its area of responsibility. Efforts were made to establish a new, larger and better library in Kibworth for the growing population. One of the driving forces for this was Miss Saunderson Morrison, a Kibworth resident, then Chairman of Market Harborough Rural District Council.
Efforts were made to secure the former Infants 'School in Paget Street (vacated by infants in February 1959 when the new Hillcrest Avenue School was opened, then used for a few years by the High School for wood and metalwork) as a library centre, but, to the dismay of many, the County Council declined and eventually sold the premises. The alternative site offered and accepted was land between the old infants' school and the bank/roundabout.
The new pre-fab style library was opened on Wednesday 26th June 1968, with no speeches or ceremony. It was stocked with just over 5000 books and the capital cost of this new venture was £6633.
Mrs Jane Kay, a librarian at Market Harborough, was responsible for setting up the library. She worked with Doris Welton behind the scenes in preparing, displaying, and later lending the books. Mrs Kay remarried and became Jane Barrows and lived in Kibworth for many years.
Kay chose books to broaden the appeal to Kibworth's residents. Fiction was still in the lead numerically,
but the wider selection covered hobbies, travel and drama books. Local history and reference books were also
now available, and a separate children's area was provided.
The library started book clubs, especially for children, special displays, and talks by authors (including Mary Patchett, children's writer, and J C Badcock, a Fleckney artist).
From 1968 the new library was opened on three days each week. Librarians came from Market Harborough on a rota, but also local people were employed on a part time basis, including Mrs Welton who worked there until her retirement in 1983.
It is important to mention ancillary library services. These are volunteers who liaise with housebound folk. Mary Carter has served this community as WRVS's 'Books-on-Wheels' (a spin off from the more well-known 'Meals-on Wheels') representative since 1972. She continued doing it into the early twenty-first century.
Readers could request books, but personal relationships built up meant that Mrs Carter could anticipate the kind of books that would be read (but not always correct!). She had been partly successful in broadening the interests of readers (from Mills & Boon to other areas such as mysteries and travel).
Maude Richards, as a health visitor, also had an arrangement with the Library to take books to some older patients. She delivered and collected the books on her medical visits, typically every fortnight and had a large box in the boot of her car for this purpose, keeping full records of loans.
Visiting local housebound readers with library books has continued to the present day, though the number of active readers is much fewer than in former years.
The Community takes over
A significant refurbishment of the library took place in 2007 with a re-opening ceremony on 24 March 2007. In the years that followed, the economic slump and consequent reduction in funding for local government led Leicestershire County Council to make severe cuts to its budget which led to the announcement in 2015 that all the smaller libraries faced closure unless taken over by the communities they served.
Kibworth Beauchamp Parish Council acquired the lease of the building and agreed to provide financial safeguards. A community group was formed, and the library came under local management on 25th May 2016. Today, the library is thriving once again.
Regular activities and special events contribute to the running costs and provide 'added value' to the core service encouraging the enjoyment derived from reading books.
The Charitable Trust that now runs the libraryis grateful to have the support of a
hard-working, committed and enthusiastic team of trained volunteers who are
involved in every aspect of the library's multi-faceted work.
This article includes research by the late Norman Harrison whom the author is pleased to acknowledge.