On retiring from The Leeds Library

Article in Speaks Volumes, No. 24, December 2020, the journal of The Leeds Library

I’ve always loved libraries. Even as a child my regular visits to the local library were eagerly awaited. My recollection is that the staff were very helpful and even indulgent to us early readers. There was one curious rule which, of course, we all accepted as being normal but, in retrospect, was somewhat paternalistic: we were issued with five library cards, three were orange and two were blue. With the blue cards one could only borrow non-fiction! The idea being presumably that 40% of our borrowed books ought to be serious!

I mention this as an introduction to my involvement in the Leeds Library. By 1973 I had already begun to research what eventually became my MPhil thesis: how Leeds changed from being an entirely Liberal-Conservative council to being almost entirely Labour-Conservative over a mere fifty years. Someone mentioned the Leeds Library to me and I entered into its hallowed portals straightaway. I was immediately at home, not least amongst the Leeds material. I discovered the bound volumes of “Morrison’s Blue Book and City Record” published only for the years 1903 to 1930 but containing a wealth of political and electoral material. Fortunately no-one else needed these and I kept renewing them for some two years.  In those days one had to be one of the elite 500 proprietors. I must have arrived at a rare slack moment because I was able to buy a share straightaway.

I have never willingly let apparently questionable decisions go unchallenged and in 1976 came the proposal to sell the head lease of the Library to a property company for a 99 year lease with an initial premium and half the shop rents to the Library. There were aspects of the deal which alerted my political antennae and I endeavoured to ask critical questions but with only one supporter in the room the Library “establishment” regarded me as an impertinence and blocked me! Later my concerns were proved correct, not least in the personal connections between some of those involved in the transaction.

I eventually came on to the Committee in 2006 and was immediately faced with the crucial issue of preparing the change to a charity. By the decision of a High Court judge we had to secure a two-thirds majority of all the existing proprietors and we had to pursue determined canvassing to obtain proxies from many who had been dormant for years. Following the change in the constitution we pushed through changes in personnel with the aim of modernising the Library without harming its heritage. Despite some resistance key changes were made and I believe that we are seeing the benefits each day. In addition persuading the Thoresby Society to join us has developed a superb local history collection.

I do not believe in hanging on to office and I retired first as Chair and now as a Trustee when I felt that my particular experience of organising strategies for change was no longer on the Trustees’ agenda.

We have a remarkable Library and all of us need to cherish it!

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