Important chapters in the history of Swindon’s library service will be celebrated at a special event on Thursday 14 November.
The Central Library will be playing host to a day of music, stories and poetry to mark a variety of milestones.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the first library being opened in the town, while it is five years since the £9.8m Central Library opened its doors for the first time.
North Swindon and Highworth libraries are also 10 years old this year and Moredon Library is celebrating its 60th birthday.
Following the adoption of the Public Libraries Act the previous year, Swindon’s first library was opened on 14 August 1943 inside McIlroys department store in Regent Street.
The library was located in the store after plans to house it in the Mechanics’ Institution fell through and proved hugely popular being home to around 22,000 books.
A week after the opening, the children’s books were moved to the Central Junior Library in the former Electricity Showrooms in Regent Circus which is now Rudi’s Wine Bar.
The library moved into two mobile units in March 1949 where it remained for the next 57 years before the new state-of-the-art Central Library was opened in October 2008.
A far cry from the previous facilities, the new library was officially unveiled by The Princess Royal the following May and had 77,000 books – 17,000 more than the previous central library – and more than 60 free-to-use computers over three floors.
Its opening also saw an expansion in operating hours and the building won a prestigious national environmental award from the Building Research Establishment.
The library’s green features include solar-powered water heating, natural ventilation rather than energy-hungry air conditioning, and the use of rainwater for flushing toilets and watering plants.
It has 28 separate zones to allow independent heating adjustment, to give optimum temperatures with minimum energy use. The building also features a sophisticated lighting control system.
Moredon’s first library opened in the Methodist Mission Chapel, The Street, Moredon, on 22 August, 1953 and the current library in Church Walk North opened to the public in November 1973.
Prior to 1963, Highworth was served by a Mobile Library based in Marlborough. Wiltshire Library and Museum Service rented premises from January 1963 in High Street until 27 April 1970. The current library in Brewery Street opened on 18 August 2003.
North Swindon Library, meanwhile, was the first Swindon Library to open on Sundays when it opened in May 2003.
From a single library opened during the Second World War, Swindon now has 15 static libraries, including the volunteer-led library at Walcot, a mobile library, and a home library service delivered in partnership with the Royal Voluntary Service.
The celebrations to mark the anniversary of the library service will start on Thursday 14 November with a special story and rhyme time with Bookstart Bear and this will be followed between 12noon and 2pm by a jazz trio in Chapters Café.
There will be E-Book demonstrations from 10am to 12noon and between 5pm and 7pm. A Swindon Monopoly competition will also be held as well as displays on the library Service and partner services.
The day will feature poetry readings and a colouring competition for under 5s, who will be in with the chance of winning a ‘Santa is Coming to Swindon’ picture book. Prospective entrants can pick up a colouring sheet from their local library and the prize winner will be announced at the story and rhyme session.
All the activities are free and further information can be obtained from local libraries.
Cllr Keith Williams, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, Strategic Transport and Leisure who is also responsible for libraries, said: “It is amazing to think that our library service started off in a department store and we now have a network of 15 libraries, plus the mobile library, serving communities across the town.
“I’m looking forward to the event on Thursday as we have a lot to celebrate, not least our fantastic Central Library which has been a huge success over the last five years.”
Pictured, from top: the town’s first library in McIlroys; library staff moving books from McIlroys to the two temporary mobile units in 1949; the temporary mobile library in Regent Circus.