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England’s second busiest library marks its 40th year
WHEN Oxford’s Central Library opened in Westgate 40 years ago, its computerised systems were unusual for the time.
But now it is the second busiest in the country– only trumped by Nortwich – lending hundreds of thousands of books every year.
Opened back in 1973 by the Queen Mother, it held a modest selection to choose from. Today, it boasts a collection of 183,650 books and 16,397 CDs and DVDs.
In 2011/12, the library issued 605,583 books and 75,411 CDs or DVDs.
For library manager Sue Harper, who started as a Saturday girl in 1975, the celebrations have been an opportunity to share fond memories.
The 54-year-old said: “There’s a brilliant photograph of when the main desk was underneath the open-plan stairs in the library, and it reminded me of things like the fact it was the first fully-computerised library. The library had printed paper catalogues on great big trollies which all had to be renewed every three to six months.”
She said she still remembered popular books from the 1970s, some of which remain popular today, including children’s works like Very Hungry Caterpillar, and novels like Love Story and Jaws. But despite the development of the internet and the rise in popularity of reading tablets, Ms Harper said libraries still had an important part to play in their communities.
She said: “I personally don’t see the death of libraries any time soon.
“What I see is that people still need a lot of help with finding information. You would assume that youngsters can just use Google, but we get a lot of young people coming in and ringing and emailing because they have no idea how to properly frame a search.
“From a book point of view, yes you get lots of offers in the supermarkets, but people still enjoy using a library to get a broader choice.”
One of the centrepieces of the celebrations this week has been a “memory wall” where customers have been able to post their memories of the 1970s.
There is also an exhibition of artefacts from the 1970s, supplied by Oxfordshire County Museum and Oxford City Museum, which started on Thursday.
Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for cultural and community services Lorraine Lindsay Gale said: “Thousands of people have crossed the threshold of our Central Library since 1973.
“I know that staff are enjoying celebrating this year’s landmark birthday for the building by remembering the 1970s.
“Library users have been getting involved and enjoying the chance to reminisce.”
The top 1973 reads
While David Cassidy was top of the music charts with Daydreamer when the Queen Mother opened the library, top books of the year were:
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman
- Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
- Sybil: The Classic True Story of a Woman Possessed by 16 Personalities by Flora Rheta Schreiber
- Jaws by Peter Benchley