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Harborne Library: A Brief History

Harborne Masonic Hall, 1883

Before annexation to the City of Birmingham, access to a public library had been limited for the residents of Harborne. A proposal that the Public Libraries Acts should be adopted by the Harborne Local Board was rejected in 1875 by the ratepayers. A small lending library, consisting only of donated books, operated at the Harborne and Edgbaston Institute in Station Road.

However the provision of a free library was one of three concessions offered to the residents of Harborne as an encouragement to agree to annexation to the city in 1890. On this occasion the proposal was accepted, having been twice rejected in preceding years.

The Corporation then purchased the Masonic Hall in the High Street for 000 for the purpose of conversion to a Public library. The Hall had been built in 1879 and had housed the Harborne Lodge, Tudor 1792 of the Province of Staffordshire. The architect was A. E. Phipson, a local man living in Metchley Lane, who in partnership with his son, is credited with designing several buildings in Harborne of a similar date.

Harborne Library, 1905

Some structural alterations were made, and meanwhile the librarian, Mr Herbert Shuttleworth, and his assistant were appointed. There was a newsroom with papers and periodicals, and it was decided that this would open ahead of the lending library on 27th August 1892. A small crowd made 'a determined rush to obtain the honour of being first' to enter, Police-Sergeant Willis ahead of them. (Harborne Herald).

The formal opening of the library was on 12th November 1892, and the ceremony was performed by the Mayor of Birmingham. Rather tactlessly, his speech referred to the greater benefits to Harborne by annexation, than of that to Birmingham! He also regretted 'the preponderance of works of fiction on the shelves' .

At this time there were just 2000 volumes available for loan. A year later, only 220 were children's books. There were 580 registered borrowers, borrowing an average of 153 books daily in the first year.

Both the lending library and the newsroom occupied the upper floor of the building, the ground floor being used for other purposes.

Not until 1925 were the public able to 'browse the shelves'. Until that time, they had been served with books on request at the counter.

2nd World War

Harborne computers

During the Second World War the basement became an air-raid shelter, and until blackout provision could be made the library closed at sunset.

During the 1960s major alterations were made to the building. The adult library moved downstairs into what had, for many years, been the newsroom. A new children's library was constructed upstairs, described at the time in the Birmingham Mail as the Pride of the new Library. Sadly the new front door was received with less enthusiasm, and was the subject of several letters to the press!

The most significant alteration since then has been the expansion into the adjoining building, providing on the ground floor a new Help Desk, and space to house the People's Network computers providing free public internet access.

21st century

The library closed in the autumn of 2005 for a major refurbishment which included the installation of a public lift, disabled person's toilet and baby changing facilities. The library opened again on July 10th 2006 with bright and attractive new furniture and fittings. The opening hours have been increased and a new music CD loan service has been introduced.

Harborne Library

Harborne History
Harborne: Early History
Harborne: 19th Century History
The Don Wright Local History Collection
Harborne in World War Two
Harborne Schooldays
Harborne High Street Landmarks
Harborne Railway History
Harborne Local History Group