History of St Ives Library
The foundation stone of St. Ives Public Library was laid in April 1896 by Mr. J. Passmore Edwards, the building’s benefactor. Passmore Edwards was born in Cornwall and became the Editor of a leading London newspaper as well as MP for Salisbury. He was a philanthropist and a life-long champion of the working classes and a generous benefactor. Passmore Edwards campaigned for the Public Libraries Act, which would give free access to information and books for everyone. After the Act was passed in 1850, he made large donations to have free libraries built. In Cornwall, he provided free libraries in St Ives, Camborne, Redruth, Falmouth, Truro, Liskeard, Bodmin, and Launceston. It was he who provided £2,000 to for the building of St. Ives Public Library, which replaced five cottages at the corner of the High Street and Gabriel Street; the object being to improve the education of the working class people of St. Ives. Passmore Edwards also provided £100 for the original book stock.
The completed building consisting of two storeys was handed over to the Corporation of St. Ives on 1st Jan 1897. However, at this stage it was unfurnished and the Corporation sought funding from the community to furnish it. To this end, immediately after the opening ceremony on 20th April 1897 a Grand Bazaar was held.
The Reading Room was opened on 21st June 1897 and 200 people were reported to have visited it on that day. Originally there was a separate reading room for ‘ladies’. In December 1897 it was opened to the public as a lending library. It was reported that 1,812 people borrowed books in its first year. In addition, in the minutes of a Council meeting it is recorded that the Library was helping a large number of people to be trained to read. From as early as 1899 some rooms in the library were used as council offices.
In 1902 there was a public appeal for funds to replace worn-out volumes, as well as to open a Reference Room and to organise Exhibitions and Lectures on Literature, Art and Science.
During World War II one of the rooms on the first floor was used by the Corporation and Borough Council to provide a Food Office where ration books were distributed. In 1952 the Library was extended by the provision of a reference department in the room formerly occupied by the Food Office.
An exhibition was held in the Library in 1950 that was so successful that the Town Council was asked for permission to establish a permanent exhibition. This was agreed and the St. Ives Museum was thus established under the auspices of the St Ives Branch of the Old Cornwall Society. It was officially opened in some of the upstairs rooms in June 1952. However, the Library Act of 1964 stipulated there must be a certain cubic capacity per person which meant that these rooms were required by the library and the Museum was forced to relocate so that the Library would comply with the Act.
The building was refurbished in 1968 by the architect Henry Gilbert, who created a lending library on the first floor with two mezzanine areas – one for a childrens’ library and one for the art books. Upstairs was the reading room where people could read all the local newspapers, and a reference library.
In 1973 the Library was taken over by Cornwall County Council at the time the county lost its boroughs and divided Cornwall into six district council areas.
In 1996 the newly created St Ives Archive (or St Ives Trust Archive Study Centre, as it was then called), a charitable organization run by volunteers, opened in the reading room. From very small beginnings it expanded rapidly. Open four days a week it provided a resource for the local history of the area for anyone to research. The two groups worked together in partnership on a number of projects, including a series of talks on local history as well as exhibitions on a number of subjects in the reference library.
In 1997 major events took place to mark the Library’s centenary, and this involved all sections of the town, including all the schools.
Following this successful series of events there was a recommendation to set up a Friends of St Ives Library group (FOSIL) using money raised at the centenary celebrations. It had been suggested that libraries across the county might start friends groups, but only St Ives Library, with the support of the Library manager and staff, has remained in place. FOSIL’s first action was to purchase the first public access computer in Cornwall.
FOSIL was able to raise funds through a number of events and publication of books (including the two important Cyril Noall books The Story of St Ives and Yesterday’s Town as well as the important reprint of John Hobson Matthews’ A History of the Parishes of St Ives, Lelant, Towednack and Zennor first published in 1892, and reprinted in association with St Ives Archive) to provide events that could not be financed through Library channels. As such it was able to run children’s workshops, ‘Storytimes’, paying authors to work with local schools etc. Funds raised also went to pay for a new display case for the St Ives Museum; two DVD stands, one for adult DVDs and the other for children. It ran a shadow puppet workshops for Shalal, which is a group of youngsters with disabilities. It also paid for further workshops for those who are home schooled. Some of these events were put on using match funding from other sources.