So wrote Philip James Bailey in his forgotten Festus. What deeds do we celebrate in the centenary year of British Public Libraries? First, that the 1850 Public Libraries Act should have been passed at all when it was, considering the forces ranged against it, including the representatives of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. “It was a moot point,” wrote Thomas Greenwood, “whether or not the rough uncultured democracy should be permitted even with the most stringent precautions to invade the sacred precincts of a library building.” The workers might get ideas beyond their station, and the buildings become hotbeds of sedition. What poppycock it all sounds nowadays!
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