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The Library World Volume 14 Issue 5

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 1 November 1911



THE speech made by Lord Rosebery at the opening of the new Mitchell Library at Glasgow on October 16th has provoked a great deal of interest in the question whether books can ever really be considered “dead.” Lord Rosebery, in endeavouring to avoid the Scylla of platitude, foundered on the Charybdis of exaggeration. “I know,” he said, “I ought to feel elated at the fact that there is this number of books compressed within these walls, and that a number of people will take advantage of them and read them. I ought to, but I do not, I feel an intense depression at this enormous mass of books, this cemetery of books, because after all most of them are dead. I should like to ask Mr. Barrett in all his experience how many really living books there are in all the Mitchell Library? How many time‐proof books—I should rather call them weather‐proof books—are there in all the Mitchell Library? You have told me it has 180,000 books. This morning I asked him if there were not 100,000 that nobody ever asked for, and he declined diplomatically to reply, but if it be true and the percentage of living books be exceedingly small—and I am afraid we must all agree that it is very small, we cannot test the life of a book until after two or three generations have passed—if the number of living books is exceedingly small in proportion to the whole, what a huge cemetery of dead books or books half alive is represented by a great library like this. Of course, some of them are absolutely dead books that no human being out of a madhouse would ask for. Some are semi‐living, some strayed reveller or wandering student may ask for them at some heedless or too curious a moment. The depressing thought to me in entering a great library of that kind is that, in the main, most of the books are dead. Their barren backs, as it were, appeal for someone to come and take down and rescue them from the passive collection of dust and neglect into which most of them have deservedly fallen … Just think what a great mass of disappointment, what a mass of wrecked hopes and lives is represented by a Public Library. Here you have folios which our generation cannot handle, novels as vapid as soda‐water which has been open for a week, bales of sermons which have given satisfaction to no one but their authors, collections of political speeches even more evanescent than the sermons, bales of forgotten science, superseded history, biographies of people that nobody cares about—all these are the staple of the Public Library.”


(1911), "The Library World Volume 14 Issue 5", New Library World, Vol. 14 No. 5, pp. 128-160.




Copyright © 1911, MCB UP Limited

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