On 21 September 2018, Reading Sheffield’s chair, Mary Grover, gave a paper written by her and Val Hewson at The Leeds Library’s conference to celebrate its 250th anniversary.
Here is a summary of the paper.
The war impinged on the reading experiences of our interviewees in ways that often seem contradictory.
Access to books generally was limited by active service, paper shortages, the lack of funds to buy new books, petrol rationing and the scarcity of new titles. But in many ways the war enabled access to books previously unexplored and above all, sharpened intellectual curiosity as readers sought to understand the world that was breaking in upon them. Our reader Mary, aged 18 when the war started, kept records of her reading between 1936 and 1942. These allow us to map both the transition from teenage to adult reading but also from reading for pleasure to a wider reading, often shaped by war. For Mary and indeed most of our readers the quality and availability of public libraries were critical to their access to books. It was their good fortune that Sheffield Libraries were then in the guardianship of a remarkably gifted librarian. In wartime Joseph Lamb opened more libraries and bought more books. His service supported not only the serious interest of borrowers like Mary in the war and the world beyond, but also the general need of Sheffield’s residents for distraction and entertainment in the home.
The war seems to have isolated our readers but simultaneously to have increased their passion for books and the value they set upon their reading.