A library lesson from the past.

The proposed move of Bath Central Library from The Podium to the One Stop Shop in Manvers Street had prompted a letter from Anthony Beeson, who lives in Bristol and worked in the library service.

bath library
Bath Central Library

Anthony is a world-renowned expert on Roman mosaics – and a prolific writer of local history – but it’s his thoughts on the history of the library service in Bath he wants to share with us.

Here’s his letter in full.

” I was working in Bristol Library as Fine Art librarian before the birth of Avon County. Bath then had its Lending Library in what is now the Art Gallery and Museum and its Reference Library occupied a house in Queen Square. The Lending Library needed more space both for stock provision and to fully function. Bath Reference library had a fine historic city collection accumulated over a long period.

This photograph of Anthony Beeson was taken in the basement Art Reference stack in 1997. He tells me that many of Bath Reference library’s weeded books were added to the stock of the Bristol Art and Reference libraries. Following the take over of the Bristol Central Library’s lower floors by the Cathedral school after 2013 these stacks were lost and the book-stock thinned out in order to accommodate the stock on new shelving elsewhere.

When the Podium was built under Avon to accommodate both departments the inevitable happened (as it always seems to in such cases) that the provision of storage space for the Reference collections was insufficient for the existing book stock. Poor Maria Joyce, who was the excellent Reference Librarian, was forced to jettison a great deal of Bath’s historic book stock, which was then sent to Bristol Central Library for dispersal.

Much the same thing happened at Weston super Mare Reference Library as well, as Bristol Library was Avon county’s central library, and withdrawn stock was sent into College Green for disposal.

That was before the days when books could legally be sold on and so any ex-library stock was literally disposed of. I grabbed as much of Bath’s stock as I could for the art department and this included anything that I could save if it was on the border line of my subject range.

The Reference library also did its best, but much was torn up by the stack staff dealing with it as they were not allowed to resell or pass it on. I am unable to damage books so you may well imagine how terrible it was to see sometimes 18th century volumes in pieces in the waste bins.

A possible view of part of the proposed new library set up in Manvers Street.

I fear that if this new move from the Podium goes ahead, the same lack of provision for existing stock will occur. It has occurred recently in Bristol with the usurpation of the book stacks by the Cathedral School at College Green. The authority gets over the withdrawal of books by saying that thinning the book stock is a natural part of a librarian’s duties, ignoring the fact that the exercise is really only to fit onto reduced shelving space.

Nowadays of course the excess will be sold at knock down prices to dealers and the public. Bath citizens must ensure that the new location for the library has the same amount of storage space for stock as at the Podium, if its library service is not to suffer another blow.’