The Great Leeds Book Crisis of 1966

In October 1966 the Leeds City Engineers determined the structure of the Central Library in the Municipal Buildings, in particular the load-carrying beams, were not strong enough to carry the weight imposed by the Reference stock.  Within weeks 80,000 volumes were moved from all stack rooms and gallery and stacked upon the library basement floors and further basement premises hastily leased in Cookridge Street.

Reference Library
Reference Library in 1954 packed with books and students – Leodis

The Library closed for 10 days from October 29th to November 10th while temporary wooden supports were fitted in the basement, ground floor, first floor and second floor.

It would take more than 5 years for the stock to be returned to the library.

1966 image showing some of the 80,000 books moved to the basement – Leodis

During this time Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Malcolm Barker described one of his visits to the reference library as follows:

A request to borrow the annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology 1879-80 raised no eyebrows at Leeds Reference Library. Obscure books are sought daily.

But the collection of the report meant that an assistant, Carol, had to walk down 71 mosaic-tiled steps (“quicker than waiting for the lift”).

She then descended into the basement. Carol’s journey continued through the cellars which run the length of the building fronting on the garden of rest.

She climbed a flight of stone steps to ground level, unlocked a door, and crossed Alexander Street in a rain-storm.  Unlocking another door, she entered the basement of a building fronting Cookridge Street.

In the corner of the cellar, among hundreds of other books, was the annual report.

The collection of the book and its return to the Reference Library gave the borrower ample time to study a notice on the desk: “It is regretted that there will be some delay in fetching maps and certain books owing to structural alterations.”

In October 1967, windows overlooking the courtyard at the rear of the library were bricked up as a new 5 story stack building was begun.

Outside Courtyard
1936 image showing the open air courtyard at the rear of the municipal buildings

In November 1973 the first four floors of the new Central Book Stack were handed over by Architects to Libraries.  Books were moved into the stacks over 4 Sundays in November & December 1973.

The new stacks were capable of holding 40,000 octavo and 25,000 quarto columns per stack and house back runs of journals, research stock and rare and valuable items.

If you visit the Arts Space on the first floor in the Central Library you can still see where the windows used to be before the stacks were built.

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