THE City Librarian of Glasgow was born at Liverpool, 20th
September, 1838, and is a son of the Rev. John Barrett, Congregational minister,
and his wife, Mary Ann, daughter of William Thornton, of London. His father's
family was resident for several generations in Gloucestershire and
After enjoying an ordinary school education, he was, in 1852, apprenticed to a bookseller and printer at Bolton, in Lancashire, and was connected with those trades in Lancashire and afterwards in Birmingham until 1866. In August of that year he was elected Sub-Librarian of the Reference Department of the Birmingham Free Libraries, and took part in the organisation of the institution, which was opened in the following October. He remained in this service until March, 1877, by which time the Birmingham Reference Library had become known as one of the most important and successful of the larger provincial libraries of England. In November, 1876, Mr. Barrett became a candidate for the post of Librarian of the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, then about to be commenced. Among the papers submitted in support of his application were testimonials from the Birmingham Libraries Committee, signed by the Right Hon. Jesse Collings, then chairman; from the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain; from the late Mr. George Dawson; from the late Dr. R. W. Dale, and others. He was elected in February, 1877; entered on the duties of the post on 15th March, and has continued in the service of the library to the present time. Following on the decision of the Corporation to establish district libraries in different parts of the city, Mr. Barrett was nominated City Librarian in May, 1901.
The Mitchell Library was organised as a library for reference and consultation within the rooms only, and was opened to the public by Lord Provost Sir James Bain, in November, 1877, in temporary premises at No. 60 Ingram Street. It then contained about 14,000 volumes. The number of volumes issued to readers on the first day was 186. It immediately became apparent that the library met a real want in the city, for the attendance of readers increased rapidly and regularly, and very soon became larger than could be comfortably provided for by the accommodation at command. By the year 1885 the average daily issue of books to readers amounted to more than 1,500 volumes, a number which involved a regrettable amount of overcrowding. The efforts of the Library Committee to find more suitable premises were continued for several years, and on the completion of the City Chambers they were able to secure for the library the building in Miller Street which had been the offices of the Water Department of the Corporation. This building was re-constructed and suitably furnished, and the library was reopened in it by the late Marquess of Bute, in October, 1891. At that time it contained over 80,000 volumes.
The history of the Library in the Miller Street building has been a continuation on the lines of its experience in Ingram Street. Under the influence of the improved conditions, the attendance again rapidly increased, with the result that the limits of accommodation were reached about 1895. The use of the library since that date has fluctuated somewhat, but generally has been as large as space has permitted.
The library now contains more than 175,000 volumes, and includes a vast number of works of value in all departments of literature. The use of the library has always been marked by the large proportion of books of information and study which have been issued. During the first thirty years of its existence, which ended at ten o'clock on the evening of Monday, 4th November, 1907, the total number of volumes issued to readers was 12,402,636, equal to a daily average of 1,418. Of this number 1,062,083 volumes, or 8.56 per cent., were works in relation to Theology, Philosophy, and Ecclesiastical History; in History, Biography, and Travels, 2,720,135 volumes, or 21.93 per cent.; in Law, Politics, Sociology and Commerce, 534,813 volumes, or 4.72 per cent.; in arts, Sciences, and Natural History and the application of these to Industries and Manufactures, 2,739,617 volumes, or 22.09 per cent.; in Poetry and the Drama, 668,136 volumes, or 5.39 per cent.; in Philology, 292,023 volumes, or 2.35 per cent.; in Prose Fiction, 998,375 volumes, or 8.05 per cent.; in Miscellaneous Literature, 3,336,949 volumes, or 26.91 per cent.
In addition to the large amount of reading in books noted above it is estimated that there has been an almost equally large number of references to, or consultations of, the current numbers of the 500 selected reviews, magazines, journals, and other periodicals in the magazine room.
As is well known, the accommodation provided in Miller Street has become quite inadequate for the requirements of the library; and the Corporation are now erecting a new building in North Street, which, it is anticipated, will provide ample room both for readers and for books for many years to come.
In the growth of the library itself, and in the use made of it by the public, the progress made by the Mitchell Library during the first thirty years of its existence has been greater than that made by any other British Library in the same relative period, it is proper to mention the names of Mr. John Ingram and of Mr. Robert Adams, for many years the senior members of the library staff.
The question of the establishment of popular district libraries and reading rooms, which form so striking a feature in the library establishments of the other great towns of the United Kingdom, was under consideration on several occasions from 1864 onwards; but no effective steps were taken in that direction until 1898. In that year the Corporation decided to take powers for such an establishment in a local Act of Parliament. Accordingly, clauses were inserted in the Glasgow Corporation (Tramways, Libraries, etc.) Act, 1899, which empowered the Corporation to establish district libraries in various parts of the city, and to levy a rate not exceeding one penny in the pound for their service. The city librarian was instructed to prepare a scheme for the consideration of the Corporation. The scheme as submitted provided for eight district libraries and five reading rooms, and was, after consideration, generally approved. A commencement was made by placing a library and reading room in halls attached to the Corporation Baths building in Gorbals; but before further progress was made the situation was entirely changed by the receipt from Dr. Andrew Carnegie of an offer to provide the sum estimated as required for the buildings for the district libraries, namely £100,000. This most munificent gift led the Corporation to revise and extend their proposals, and the city librarian was instructed to prepare an amended scheme. The new scheme provided for fourteen district libraries and three reading rooms. One of the proposed reading rooms was subsequently raised to the status of a library, and the union of Kinning Park with Glasgow brought the library, established there by a gift of £5,000 from Dr. Carnegie, within the Glasgow establishment. With two exceptions, for which sites have not been secured, the whole of the proposed libraries have been completed and are now in full working order. Each of the fourteen district libraries contains a lending department, from which books are drawn for home reading; a large general reading and news room, with magazines, newspapers, and a collection of 600 to 1,000 volumes of works of reference and of general literature; a reading room for ladies, and reading rooms for boys and for girls. The number of volumes in each of the fourteen libraries is from 8,000 to 15,000.
The use made of the libraries by the general public is a sufficient demonstration of the reality of the need they supply. During the month of January, 1909, the number of visitors to the libraries (including the Mitchell Library) was over 688,000, and of books issued or consulted over 304,000. The number of borrowers' tickets in force in the lending libraries is over 62,000. The number of books handled in the system of exchange, by means of which borrowers wherever resident are enabled to call for books from libraries in other parts of the city, is about 20,000 per year. The organisation and conduct of these district libraries call for the best efforts of a considerable staff, which acts under the direction of Mr. John McDonald, who succeeded Mr. S. A. Pitt, in September, 1908, as superintendent of District Libraries.
Mr. Barrett is an original member, a Fellow, and President of the Library Association; and has contributed papers on various points of professional practice to its annual conference and to the professional journals.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)