the online A-Z of Southampton's history.

Southampton Times, 6 September 1913

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Southampton was one of the first towns where the people were allowed to wander among the books before making a choice.
Visitors to the Central Library in London Road on Monday 1 September 1913 “had a pleasant and exceedingly gratifying surprise.” (Hampshire Advertiser 6 September 1913) “Free access is given by a gate to all the shelves, and the prospective borrower, after returning his old volume” (you could only borrow one book at a time) “can pass along the whole range of the shelves, picking and choosing until a book hits his taste… When the borrower has selected his book he makes his way to the egress gate, where the number of his volume is taken, and after this very simple transaction he is free to leave.”
“This really excellent innovation puts the Southampton Library on a par with the very best libraries in the kingdom. The credit of this exceedingly beneficial state of things must go to the chief librarian, Mr A H Davis. not only has Mr Davis been mainly responsible for it, but thanks to his thought and careful planning, many of the fixtures of the old system have been incorporated into the new, with the result that the reconstruction has been done at absolutely the minimum cost and absolutely the maximum efficiency… The old counter, a splendid bit of mahogany by the way, has been cut up and fitted into its new place… The shelves by the outer walls belong to fictio, alphabetically arranged under authors’ names. If you want a book and know the name of the author, you take it out of the shelf: any child could do it. If you are in search of heavier stimulus, you cast your eye along the “signposts” which stick out from the shelf ends:- “Religion and Philosophy”, “History and Travel” – that ingenious union is only temporary to see how it works – “Science and Useful Arts,” and so on. “Aerial Navigation” has been allowed room to grow… nearly 1,000 books were issued from the reopened library on Monday.”
The Southampton Times wrote “Although it may have been a somewhat strange experience … to walk at will and ease among the volumes which have hitheto been viewed from afar, the advantages of the new system are at once apparent and as quickly appreciated… The staff have complete oversight of all parts of the Library, and no-one can leave surreptiously. There is only one exit, and that is barred until the assistant touches a knob inside the counter.”
At the next annual stocktaking, in September 2014, only six books were missing out of 194,023 lent during the year. It was only going to cost 10s 6d (about 53p) to replace them.

From Monday 27 July 2020, visitors to the Central Library will be able to pass along our shelves again, picking and choosing until a book or two or more hits their taste. It will be a somewhat strange experience, though. To keep each other safe, we will need to limit the number of people in the library at any one time, and it will not be possible to linger for more than 30 minutes. Like the shops, masks should be worn, and staff will be behind screens or wearing visors. If you take a book from the shelf, but decide not to borrow it, you will be asked to place it on a table ready for 72 hours’ quarantine.

Good news: the Local Studies and Maritime Library is now making appointments for controlled access to their materials. You will need to book at least a week in advance: the first sessions are available from Tuesday 4 August on Tuesdays and Fridays only, 10-12 and 2-4.

Email ku.vog.notpmahtuos|seiduts.lacol#ku.vog.notpmahtuos|seiduts.lacol for more information.

Please note: You will only be able to consult pre-booked items: you will not be able to browse or ask for additional material on the day.

We will be keeping each other safe with social distancing, masks and perspex screens.

We continue to be able to answer your enquiries by email ku.vog.notpmahtuos|seiduts.lacol#ku.vog.notpmahtuos|seiduts.lacol or phone 023 8083 3007 (option 3) and ask for Local Studies.

This webpage will be continually updated to reflect changes in service availability and opening hours.

You can still use "select and collect" : just visit the online library catalogue and place your request from home. Or you can telephone us 023 8083 3007 (option 3) and we will check the catalogue and place your request for you. When your item is available , it will be prepared for collection and made available on dedicated shelves. We will then let you know it is ready to collect in whatever way you have asked us to do so.

See more about the Central Library here

These are the first Library Rules, from 1889.


Dock Gates: details of the 1968 renumbering in the Eastern Docks.

Newtown Wesleyan Chapel, Alfred Street: a gift with strings attached

VE day celebrations: a new photograph showing Library staff on VE Day.

George Walters Bleckley, John Mansell, and Richard Wake: three local tradesmen who spoke up for themselves.


Follow Southampton Cultural Services on Facebook at Southampton Stories

Look out for #ThrowbackThursday and #Maritime Monday on Southampton City Libraries Facebook page.

Links to local history societies and other resources.

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Bitterne Local History Society

City of Southampton Society

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The Southampton branch of the Hampshire Genealogical Society Family History Group

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Sotonopedia last updated 29 July 2020

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