(Leeds, early March, 1914)
People in Leeds are taking less fiction out of the public libraries, but they’re still reading too much of it.
That’s the view of City Librarian T. W. Hand in an interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post in March 1914.
With artisans and professional men requesting more books “to aid them in all departments of knowledge”, the percentage of fiction taken out is falling – down 1.6% to 47.4% in 1913.
But there is still “a too heavy demand for fiction”, Hand says.
“People nowadays have more leisure than ever … but all classes alike spend too much time in the pursuit of highly exciting leisure – the well to do in golfing, and motoring and ‘week-ending’ and ‘idling’ … and the working classes in watching football and attending places of amusement.”
“These people make no attempt at being well-informed, and are entirely out of sympathy with intellectual development.”
Hand goes on: “I think, however, there are signs that there will be a reaction against the present craving for pleasure and that people will return to more intellectual pastimes and pursuits.”
All over the country, he says, public libraries are trying to “influence people to get away from the excessive reading of fiction”.
Subscription for “poverty-stricken Leeds”
At the time of the interview Hand had already been in the post of city librarian for 17 years, and had another 13 to go.
He’d been taken to task four years earlier by the novelist Arnold Bennett over his libraries’ policy on stocking fiction.
Well, there had been a sensation in 1909 when H. G. Wells’ “feminist” novel Ann Veronica was published. In Hull the council’s libraries’ committee had banned it and it wasn’t available in other towns, including Leeds.
Bennett quotes Hand as saying: “I haven’t read the book through, though I have seen it, and we haven’t got it in any of our libraries in Leeds. The reason for this is not the character of the book, but the fact that we never purchase our novels until they have become cheaper.”
“Charming confession!,” scolds Bennett. “A subscription ought to be opened for poverty-stricken Leeds, which must wait to buy an English book that is or will be translated into every European language, until it has become cheaper!”