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Public Libraries in the UK History and Values

Public Libraries in the UK – History and Values

Public libraries have existed for a comparatively short space of time in terms of human history. In the twenty-first century it is difficult to conceive of any large community in the developed world that does not have at least one public library; yet this was the case for the majority of the citizens of Victorian Britain. The network that currently exists in the UK owes its existence to a number of individuals who either led the way by altruistic provision of a library for their local community, or through their campaigning for a national network through parliament. As Black suggests, “Proposals for a truly free library service did not appear overnight: they emerged on the back of a healthy tradition of independent library provision made by a diverse range of social, political and educational institutions” (Black, 1996: p.26).

Download the full text of two essays by David McMenemy, Lecturer in Information Science at the University of Strathclyde on the history and value of public libraries in the UK.

Watch the first in a series of lectures by David McMenemy on the pre and post war history and development of public libraries in the UK and the values a library embodies.

In the second of his lecture series, David McMenemy explores the notion of equity and freedom of access as a core mission for public libraries and what this means for professional librarians.

David McMenemy discusses “the great fiction question” – should public libraries only be allowed to lend material which is deemed to be “worthy”?


What are the ethical values of library work? Why do they matter and what for they mean in practice?

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