Thursday, October 18, 2007

Library Outreach Services, London, 1895

I always enjoy finding references to libraries in my pleasure reading. I found the following opening paragraph in the second chapter of The London Yankees: Portraits of American Writers and Artists in England, 1894-1914 by Stanley Weintraub.

Externally, Lancaster Gate had an ambience of comfortable gentility rather than showy fashion. At number 69, for example, lived retired Indian civil administrator Sir Richard Strachey, whose gaunt, precocious son Giles Lytton was often home from public school on sick leave. Every week the van from the circulating library would deliver half a dozen novels to Sir Richard's door, perhaps even the latest title by Bret Harte, or by Pearl Craigie under her well-known pseudonym, "John Oliver Hobbes." Deaf and doddering, Strachey very likely had no idea that Lancaster Gate was being overrun by authors or tainted by scandal by such Americans.

The next paragraph tells the reader that the time is 1895.

I wonder whether the books were for the father or the son or someone else in the house. Also, was delivery service just a benefit of membership in the circulating library or a special arrangement? Did someone have to have a doctor's signature to get delivery? It must not have been an uncommon service, for the library had a van.

One of the current ideas that is being batted around is that public libraries should send out their books by mail (like Netflix) or deliver more to homes. It seems to be an older idea than we thought.

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