I went to Norwich last week, on a whim. Having read that Norwich has the busiest library in the UK, being a library fan, I decided to go to see it for myself. I also learned that having opened in 1608, Norwich's library is among one of the oldest public libraries in England. So, the day was set for a fascinating day of library encounters.
Before I went, I had a look in the RGS's Foyle Reading Room at some old maps of Norwich - dating from 1946, 1914, 1910, 1830, 1834 & 1766. The later three showed two library sites, so I set off to find out what was there now.
The first Norwich library was established in 1608. Three rooms of a house belonging to Jerrom Goodwym, a swordbearer, were converted into a library for use by visiting preachers in a building adjoining this, St Andrews Hall. The library stood here for 193 years.
This building housed a private subscription library, which also doubled as Norwich's library for some time, between 1837 and 1976. The building is now a tastefully renovated restaurant.
In early 19th century, Norwich was dubbed the "Athens of England" for its intellectual life and society. So there was call for a second library, and in 1857 another library opened at this building on St Andrew's Street.
The owners, sadly, could not find a suitable notary to open the building (they had asked the Duke of Cambridge, Lord Stanley, Gladstone, Lord John Russell, and even William Ewart, a well-known library campaigner).
Apparently, this was the UK's first building specifically designed as a library. It's now gone, demolished. The site on St Andrews Street stood from March 1857 to December 1962.
The library then moved to the site it currently occupies - although the building has changed. It burned down in 1994 due to an electrical fault. Here's what it looked like inside, sometime in the 1960s.
And now, the library is a bright, open, airy place, all glass and light. It's laid out more like HMV than a library, and has Council information, CDs, DVDs, books, internet and local archives all on one site. And the books are good - I noticed an architecture book I've previously only seen in gallery shops. And to top it all, it's getting even bigger.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Norwich, and its libraries. Here's hoping it continues to have success for another 400 years.