Sheffield’s Historic ​Library Culture Uncovered

On Monday 26 March 2018, in The Lord Mayor’s Parlour, Sheffield Town Hall, Reading Sheffield held the special Sheffield launch of

Before the Public Library: Reading, Community, and Identity in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850, edited by Mark Towsey, University of Liverpool, and Kyle B. Roberts, Loyola University, Chicago (Published Leiden, Brill, December 2017).

Before the Public Library explores community-based lending libraries in the Atlantic world before the push for public libraries in the mid-nineteenth century. The book shows how community libraries were contingent on the social networks, political and religious movements, scientific and geographic knowledge and economic enterprise of the particular communities in which they emerged.

In a chapter devoted to four community libraries in Sheffield, two local historians, Loveday Herridge and Sue Roe, both members of Reading Sheffield, explore how library culture in Sheffield in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was shaped both by local factors and by the broader currents of political and social change in the age of revolutions.

At a time when the future for libraries everywhere is uncertain, this examination of the roots of reading and book-borrowing in Sheffield illuminates the debate about how we decide who has access to books, what they should read, and how the ‘public’ should be defined.

Here are photos taken by local artist and Reading Sheffield member, Lizz Tuckerman, with descriptions by Loveday Herridge.

We invited our guests to look at copies of some of the documents we used in our research – and to peruse the book Before the Public Library to which Reading Sheffield contributed

Then Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Councillor Anne Murphy, opened the book launch in front of a specially invited audience

Professor Mark Towsey, Department of History, University of Liverpool, and co-editor of the book, presents a copy to Lord Mayor Councillor Anne Murphy

Sue Roe, Reading Sheffield researcher and co-writer of the book’s Sheffield chapter, describes the journey from idea to publication

Loveday Herridge, Sue’s co-writer, talks with one of our guests

Mary Grover, Chair of Reading Sheffield, describes the project’s beginnings and how it has developed in so many directions

Documents from the Sheffield Book Society on display

The Lord Mayor’s Parlour in Sheffield’s Town Hall was a wonderful venue to launch a book in which Sheffield’s reading history is celebrated