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Birmingham City Council

Constitution Hill Library

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The Free Libraries Committee was set up in 1860. They had already decided by May of that year that there should be a central newsroom, lending and reference library; and four district libraries. These were set up in the 1860s. The only one of the original buildings to survive is Deritend, but it is no longer used as a library.
Many more libraries have been added since that time. The oldest building still in use as a library is Bloomsbury, opened in June 1892. Harborne, previously a Masonic Hall, was opened as a library later that year, Spring Hill in 1893, and Balsall Heath in 1896.

 Constitution Hill library

Constitution Hill Library

When the Free Libraries Committee had decided that there should be four district libraries, they made an estimate of the cost, which was set at £813 for one library. This sum included £4,500 to buy 3,000 volumes; £75 for the librarian's salary, and £13.00 for the (boy) assistant. Constitution Hill was the first library to be opened. Originally it was in a rented building, in 1883 it moved to purpose-built premises.
The opening day of this, Birmingham's first public library, was in April 1861. The Mayor, Mr. Arthur Ryland, entertained three hundred of the most important citizens at breakfast at Dee's Hotel; they then walked in procession to the library. After speeches, the building was declared open.

 Constitution Hill library staff

Constitution Hill Library staff

In the first few weeks borrowers sometimes had to wait more than an hour to obtain books, so popular was the library. It was estimated that, in its first year, the Constitution Hill Library had circulated more books than any other free library in the country. In the first year the average daily issue was 376 volumes.
The First Annual Report in 1862 remarked approvingly that '... all classes of society fully appreciate the importance of the means of Education which Poor Libraries afford.' It also noted that 'The fines for detaining books beyond the period allowed for reading them have in all cases been cheerfully paid.'


Adderley Park Library
Deritend Library
Gosta Green Library