In 2015 Library Stories started a citywide conversation, to discover how libraries are used and valued in Sheffield today

In May 2015, Library Stories was invited to meet Stannington Library's reading group. Five members (including one who volunteers at the community-run library) joined in the discussion, which covered such topics as education, Kindles and the gender imbalance in reading groups. Below is a snippet of the conversation.

Merryl: I've probably been coming to this reading group for about 8 years. It's taken us a long time to get to know each other, because it's once a month... But it's a social aspect now, and that's important because we're all retired – except Penny.

Linda: It's funny, what you're brought up with, you assume is the same everywhere. I come from Bootle... There was a great temperance movement and the [merchants] bequeathed lots of libraries... As a child I remember going. You were allowed 3 books max. I used to eat books, I read loads. When I was in secondary school I studied the classics, so we used to go to the William Brown Library, the central library in Liverpool, and they had all the ancient Greek texts, Sappho and all that... When I left Liverpool I was quite shocked that other places didn't have this great array of libraries. When I came to Sheffield I lived at Ecclesall first and one of the first things they did was they sold Ecclesall Library. I noticed the impact on neighbours. A neighbour next door looked after two elderly aunts and they'd get a bus outside the house to the library – it was quite a big thing for them, getting out and going there.

Diana: I remember the 3 book rule too. In the summer holidays I used to read one while I was there, take my three books home, which probably involved reading one on the way. There was one day when I'd finished everything by lunchtime and the weather was dreadful and my mum said "you can go back down again. Put your wellies on". I can remember turning up with those three books and being told "well you only borrowed them this morning... You can't have any more out today", and standing there and crying... They relented and told me not to tell my friends!

Merryl: I'm from the Rhondda Valley in Wales and it was a poor area, a mining area. Our library was purpose built, very stark, one big room. I can remember going from being 11 and picking my own books and doing my homework there. I remember the silence... I was one of six children, my father was a miner, and really we were very poor, so the books I could borrow were my saviour. I remember Enid Blyton and Milly-Molly-Mandy.

Penny: I was brought up in London and when the GLC (Greater London Council) came in, they actually banned books at one point by Enid Blyton, I think the William stories, and Biggles. It was about values. Because Enid Blyton – all her children lived in posh houses and they had maids. William was ungrammatical, and Biggles was right-wing... It was a Labour council. I presume they don't do it now, but I found it amusing!

Merryl: I came back to the library when I retired, because I thought I can't afford books anymore. You have to cut back somewhere. And it's for the social side of it.

Diana: I'm very grateful for my secondary school. We used to go into the library in English session, maybe once a month, and they dinned into us how to use a library, the different sections... the Dewey system. So coming here as a volunteer, it was second nature.

Merryl: What I've found difficult was, we had a librarian do all the work for our book club, and when the librarians left I had no idea how much was involved... There's a lot goes on in the background, and we'd never known that. We just came in on Friday mornings, pile of books in front of us, a cup of tea. It's been a learning curve.

Diana: There's a lot of the library work that we've discovered on the job. Although we had a full day's training and 2 half-day practice sessions, they were very useful and covered some of the basics, but in no way did they cover all the basics. Certainly there's lots of fringe elements that if we didn't have someone who has been a trained librarian to help... there's an awful lot we've had to learn from scratch.

Merryl: The librarians were brilliant.

Library Stories

What’s your library story? Perhaps the library's where you discovered your favourite book, made new friends at a club, or sent your first email.

In 2015, Library Stories started a citywide conversation, to discover how public libraries are used and valued in Sheffield today.

Over 200 library users got involved, sharing memories, illustrations and photos. Together, they create a striking record of love, appreciation and support for Sheffield’s public libraries. This website is just a sample of those stories.

This website is a celebration of our city’s libraries, past and present, and an invitation for you to share your library story.

Working with Sheffield Archives, Library Stories delved into the history of the public library system in Sheffield. It traced the decisions involved in setting up the libraries, and gained a sense of what it was like to use the libraries at the turn of the 20th century. Here, you’ll find a selection of these discoveries, alongside photos of library life over the decades.

Libraries haven’t had it easy in recent years and, over the course of this project, many were in varying states of adjustment to community, associate and co-delivered services. Whatever form they take it’s clear that, to many, local libraries are a lifeline, an invaluable free resource, a source of joy. Read a selection of thoughts on and memories of the city’s libraries, shared with Library Stories on comment cards, at book clubs and reminiscence events, and in one-on-one interviews.

Leave a comment, sharing your thoughts on Sheffield’s libraries.

Library Stories is a joint project by the University of Sheffield and Our Favourite Places, funded by Arts Enterprise.

Thanks to all staff at Sheffield Libraries and Archives for their support with Library Stories, especially Dan Marshall and Dot Morritt for helping spread the word about the project and host interviews. Archival photos courtesy of Picture Sheffield. 'Present' photos by Gemma Thorpe, from a Library Stories reminiscence event at Multi-Story Festival in May 2015.


For further information about the project, contact us.