CONSIDER these quotes:-

“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life,”; “Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest”; “To build up a library is to create a life. It’s never just a random collection of books”; “When I got my library card, that’s when my life began”; “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future”; “Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life.”

They were said by some of the greatest figures of the last century and still hold true today.

The borough of Bolton is fortunate to have an extensive and well-used library service. It’s something that we can be proud of. But Boltonians have always been passionate about reading, as today’s feature reveals.

A LIBRARY of sorts existed in Bolton as early as 1784 at the Boar’s Head Hotel, in Churchgate, and in 1804 the Caledonian Book Club was founded. But it was not until 1828 that the building that became known as the Reference Library was constructed in Victoria Square.

In 1824, £3,000 had been subscribed towards its erection, and the land was purchased from the Earl of Bradford. The price agreed upon was 9d. a yard for 999 years. Built by the Bolton Exchange Company, it was called ‘Bolton Exchange Buildings,’ and it was used as a newsroom.

Describing its appearance in the 1850s, one noted architect said: “It is built in the Grecian style, and is the most severely classical example of architecture in the town.”

In 1853, the Corporation decided to rent the upper rooms for the purpose of establishing a public library, and it was officially opened on October 12, 1853, with the hopes that “Drunkeness would decline, artisans would become better husbands and better fathers. The need for magistrates would decrease and the library was a first step towards lessening the vast numbers of those who crowd our prisons.”

The first librarian was ex-police sergeant Martin Finnigan who at one time had been disciplined for “Failing to prevent a robbery of ducks on his beat”.

Of the library, the 1850s commentator noted: “It contains a great number of valuable books in excellent condition as to the binding, and well-worthy of being visited.”

The square at that time was known as the New Market Square, and the town hall had not been built. This meant the Exchange Buildings were the finest in the vicinity.

From 1863, regular complaints were made about the way the library was run. In May, 1865, an investigation reported that there had been “great inefficiency and want of attention on the part of the librarian.”

Six-months later, he resigned.

As the years went by, the skills and status of librarians increased steadily. When James Kirkbride Waite, a former schoolmaster was appointed in July, 1870, there were 306 other applicants for the £120-a-year-job.

In the early 1870s, the Bolton Exchange Company dissolved, and it was then that the Corporation assumed control of the building.

The Public Library had been transferred to Oxford Street in 1869, and the subscription section was removed to the ground floor of the Exchange Building in 1873 - the upper floor being used as a museum until the Chadwick Museum was built in Queen’s Park.

As a point of interest, Prince Albert presented a book, The Natural History of Birds, to the free library in 1856, and it continually received further valuable additions. By the end of the century, it was publicly known as the Reference Library.

When Waite retired in 1904, he was succeeded by the flamboyant, limelight loving Archibald Sparke.

Sparke, the town’s first fully-trained librarian, sported a waxed moustache and wore a silk hat and frock coat.

It was Sparke who finally, in 1910, gave the public freedom of the bookshelves. Previously, borrowers made their selections from a printed catalogue and asked for them at the counter. Inevitably, the staff wasted a lot of time tramping back and forth between the shelves and the hopeful readers looking for books which already proved to be already out on loan.

Sparke was an exceptionally able librarian, but he does not seem to have had such positive human qualities.

He reserved his diplomacy strictly for people of power and authority, and it was alleged that he kept the salaries of his staff low to improve his own pay rates.

When he departed in 1931 - still wearing the, by then, long out of fashion top hat and frock coat - there must have been many sighs of relief in the library department.

In January 1933, with an ever-increasing number of readers, the question of providing Red [Communist] literature came before the Libraries Committee.

Among the books suggested by the Labour Party were Days With Lenin, by Maxim Gorky.

Possibly, the literature was of an exceptionally fiery nature, for on the very next evening there was a fire in the library, which amongst other things, destroyed the entire collection of Communist literature and periodicals laid out on a table ready for inspection.

Fortunately, however, the fire was confined to the chief librarian’s room and no damage was done to the valuable collection next door – which included the famous Walt Whitman collection.

Bolton’s grand Central Library opened in 1939, in what is now Le Mans Crescent, and by 1948 the town council was stumped about what to do with the old Reference Library building.

A popular suggestion of the time was to use it as a publicly-owned dance and concert hall, but by 1956, the building was being used by the Inland Revenue Valuation Office.

In February 1968 we reported how there were talks to lease the building to the Co-operative Permanent Building Society.

These days, the handsome old building is unoccupied but the next time you pass it, spare a thought for the important part it played in Bolton’s history

Perhaps the last word should go to Albert Einstein, regarded of one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century.

He said: “The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”