National Libraries Week 2020: Mobile Libraries

OUR FOUR-WHEELED, BOOK-CARRYING, BEHEMOTHS…

The final in our series of articles for National Libraries Week 2020, celebrating the history of the Leeds Library Service – a short history of Mobile Libraries in Leeds…

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It’s not everywhere that we can build a branch library, and even if we could not everyone would be able to travel further than the end of their street, and for those avid readers we have our fleet of mobile libraries.  Travelling to smaller outlying locations and directly into the driveways of sheltered accommodation, our mobile services provide book where there is no branch library in the locality.

Shown above are (we think! – please let us know if we are wrong…) driver Norman Judd and library assistants Joan Hewitt, Cynthia Atkinson and Vilma Crossfield (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

Leeds Libraries launched their mobile fleet in 1971, the vehicle was a built by Maudsley’s Limited of Dewsbury Road and was equipped to carry 2,600 books.  The service cost £9,000 to put on the road and it travelled a different route each day of the week from Monday to Saturday.  Monday to Friday the service operated 9am-8pm and on a Saturday from 9am to 5pm.

Mr Gerald Grace the Deputy Librarian stands in the entrance to the mobile library on its first day of service (c) David Atkinson Archive, www.leodis.net

At the end of the 1960s Morley Town Council decided to extend the scope of the library services, and in April 1969 the above blue bus took its first run out up Springfield Avenue, the new mobile service was a success and kept on after 1974 following the merger with Leeds City Council as which point the mobile joined the existing Leeds Libraries fleet and painted a different colour scheme.  The new metropolitan district of Leeds now had a fleet of 5 mobiles and 67 branches to service a population of 740,000.

1985. View of Leeds City Libraries’ contingent if Mobile Libraries, parked in the yard outside the old Library Headquarters on York Road. The headquarters were based in the former York Road Branch Library and Public Baths building, seen on the right. Each mobile was staffed at the time by a driver and an assistant, seen pictured here outside their vans. The area in the foreground is now taken up by Great Clothes (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

By 1985 the fleet had increased to six vehicles seen about outside the old Library Headquarters on York Road, looking more like a fleet of fire engines each mobile is staffed at the time by a library assistant and driver pictured above standing proudly in front of their vehicles.

I joined the mobile library team back when the heating was an extra layer of thermals but that didn’t stop my time being full of wonderful memories of events attended, difficult locations accessed and wonderful customers met. – Tim, mobile driver/library staff

Undated. View of the interior of one of Leeds City Libraries’ Mobile Libraries, which travel around the city providing a service to those people unable to access the branch libraries (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

That image above shows the inside of one of our c.1980s vans, you can see the shelves are tilted slightly back towards the walls which helped keep the books in place as the mobile moved around the city.  On the top of the counter you can see the old wooden issue tray holding the cardboard tickets showing which borrower had taken out which book so clearly a time before the computerised library system was available on board. This must always be secured before the vehicle was in motion as failure to do so could easily result in a floor full of book tickets and borrower tickets and the impossible task of matching book to borrower.

I had a customer complain that the book he was given on dinosaurs didn’t have any real photos in it! – Lawrence, Mobile Customer Service Assistant

1989. View of one of Leeds City Libraries’ Mobile Libraries on the circular roadway in the grounds to the rear of the Civic Hall, taken when the mobile was new in 1989. The glass bridge linking the Civic Hall to its Annexe can be seen to the left. The tall building partly visible behind this is Leeds College of Technology (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

The fleet (just like our library staff) continued to be updated and as older mobiles retired newer ones were brought in, the 1989 model above has been taken for a spin to the Civic Hall, possibly to show off its shiny paintwork and new stock selection to the Lord Mayor of Leeds.

2000. In this image local residents are accessing the Mobile Library Service from this vehicle parked in Muir Court. The photograph was forwarded to Leeds Library Service along with a letter of appreciation from a user of the Mobile library. The service began in 1971 with a vehicle built by Maudsley’s Limited of Dewsbury Road. Two library assistants and two drivers were employed to provide a service on six different daily routes, between Mondays and Saturdays. Muir Court is located in St. Michael’s Road and is retirement housing managed by Anchor Trust (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

This more bijou model from the Millennium was a specialist mobile, fitted out with stock chosen to appeal to its audience of older people residing in sheltered accommodation across the city. 

Lucy [a customer] said once that if she got too old for the steps on the Mobile that I should roll her up into a ball and bounce her up and down to get her on and off. This was on her 100th birthday. – Lawrence, Mobile Customer Service Assistant

5th March 2007. View showing a Mobile Library parked in the car park at Moor Allerton Shopping Centre. Moor Allerton Library is seen in the background on the right (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

By 2007 it was all change with a new livery, gone was the orange and in its place a bright shiny white coat.  By now the mobiles were connected digitally, out went the cardboard borrower tickets and in their place a connection to the computerised system, not just this but by now our mobile fleet carried laptops and internet access to allow our library users to browse the world wide web.

You have no idea what it means to us having the mobile library visiting. Many of the children in my class do not live near a library and would never see or use one. This is a real boost to our literacy curriculum. – Primary School teacher

12th August 2010. View of the new children and family mobile, the first of its kind for Leeds City Council. It has been designed for young people under 12 and their families. The new mobile is over 8.5 metres in length (28 feet) and is painted in a distinctive new livery that will be applied to all the service’s mobile libraries. It carries over 1,500 items for children, including popular stories and resources to help with homework. There will also be a selection of books for parents and carers as well as internt access, a seating area for story-telling and a pull-out awning to extend outside the vehicle. The bright and eye-catching mobile library is seen parked outside the Library Headquarters at number 1 Bowcliffe Road in this image (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

In 2010 we were breaking new ground once again with a mobile library designed solely for the under 12s and their families. Carrying over 1,500 children’s books including popular stories and resources to help with homework and a selection of books for parents and carers as well as internet access, a seating area for story-telling and a pull out awning to extend outside the vehicle proving shade from the sun and protection from the rain, because in Leeds both of those things can happen at once.

We love you coming and giving us access to a lot more books than we have in our library at school. – a School Twitter account

In 2011 the fleet increased to seven vehicles and today it continues to provide a mobile service to the people of Leeds 49 years after its first book behemoth took its inaugural run through Butcher Hill in West Park.  Sadly we don’t know what happened to our trusty old book steads once they retired from service but I like to think they went on to have a second lease of life and adventure.

Contact the Local and Family History department on 0113 37 86982 or via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk to learn more about our local history resources, or to contribute your memories about Leeds’ local and City libraries.

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