The opening of Rock Road Library, Cambridge


On the opening of a new local library in South Cambridge in May 1936

From the Cambridge Daily News.

360521 ROck Road Library opening photo


Rock Road Branch Opened

Mayor and Books

What, in the words of Councillor Swift, was history in connection with the library movement in Cambridge, was made at Rock Road on Wednesday evening, when the Mayor (Ald. H.T. Wing) opened the new branch of the Cambridge Public Libraries which has been built there.

The ceremony took place in the children’s reading room, which is a feature of the new library. Cllr Swift (chairman of the Library Committee) presided.

Others present were: Aldermen Raynes, Conder and Briggs, Cllrs Ambrose, Bowen, Church, Dilley, Hensher, Kay, Lofts, Priest, Mrs Rackham, Sir Hubert Sams, Stokes, Wilding and Wood, Dr G P Bidder, Miss Brooks (County Librarian), Mr EAB Barnard, Revs JC Paterson Morgan and SS Pay, Mr Bockock, Mr Morley Stuart and Mr GH Pateman.

The Mayoress was unable to be present owing to a family bereavement. Cllr Swift express regret that a representative of the Carnegie Trust, which had helped with the money for the library, was unable to be present owing to a previous engagement.

Ald Briggs Welcomed Back

Cllr Swift first gave a welcome to Ald. Briggs. Mr Swift referred to his long illness, and mentioned that the present occasion was his first public event he had attended since recovering. The speaker went on to say that afternoon history was actually being made in connection with the library movement in Cambridge. Forty years ago, he continued, the Library Committee were faced with the problem of supplying adequate library accommodation for the increasing population in the Mill Road area. As a result of their deliberations, the Mill Road branch library was built.

There were similar problems today in connection with rapidly growing districts of the town. The Library Committee had adopted certain tentative measures in several districts – adult branches where books could be changed two nights a week. One reason for the adoption of that plan was the committee wished to test the amount of support they might obtain from residents in the districts if they went further and endeavoured to establish permanent libraries. The result of the establishment of the adult branches had been remarkable; every month, the speaker thought, the returns had shown an increase. Such a happening strengthened his hand when he had to appeal to the Council on behalf of his committee for permanent branch libraries at Rock Road and Chesterton.

Cllr Swift spoke of the modernity of the library about to be opened, and of tat which it was hoped to open in Chesterton next year. he contrasted this modernity with the arrangements at the Central Library, which was built many years ago, and mentioned that his committee were very keen on the matter of the reorganisation and re-arrangement of the Central Library, which it was hoped in time to make as modern ads the branches referred to.

A nucleus

In the Rock Road Library, he mentioned, there were between five and six thousand books already. That was a nucleus. It was hoped that in time there would be ten thousand on its shelves, both fiction & non-fiction. The committee believed that in these days of difficulty it was important that there should be in every district a building which would help circulate among the surrounding people the best ideas & information for their guidance and thought.

Cllr Swift mentioned that membership of the Rock Road Library entitled the borrowers to obtain books from any other branch, or the Central Library; the only stipulation was that the books had to be returned whence they were taken. The Library, he said, would be in the care of Mr Finch, who had been at work for 16 years in the Central Library and had gained a great deal of experience, and the speaker was sure, would be successful in his new post. The Library Committee, he mentioned, felt very strongly that so far was practical, it should put a Cambridge man into a Cambridge job. (Applause).

The speaker paid a tribute to the builder, Mr Kidman, and his men, and to the Borough Surveyor, Mr Teasdale, who signed the building. “I do hope,” he said in his conclusion, “that in the days to come this building will become more and more the intellectual home of the people who live round it.”

The Mayor, in his speech, first asked his hearers whether it had ever occurred to them that man, who was so often alone, had invented so few things as a means of solitary diversion. But there was one occupation that stood out above all others for the entertaining of the solitary soul, and that was reading. Of course, the amount of benefit to be derived by the reader would vary according to the quality of the book and also whether the reader was able to suck the honey out of the flower. But if it were a good book, even the less intelligent reader could scarcely come to any harm, and might succeed in enriching his mind.

Charles Lamb and books

[The Mayor continues] Charles Lamb said in one of the Elia essays:

“I can read anything which I call a book. There are such things in that shape which I cannot allow for such”

“I supposed it would be asking too much of you, Mr Chairman, or of our Borough Librarian, to give us a certificate that all the books that have been put upon the shelves of this library would pass muster with the gentle Elia if he were with us today.” Went on the Mayor

“Of course, while one must recognise that a public library must supply, to a very large extent at least, the books for which the public are asking and for which, by the way, the public are paying, yet we may rest assured the Library Committee will see to it that there will be provided a leaven of those volumes which Lamb would allow to be books.

“And this brings me to the educational advantages that a public library affords to those who desire to profit by it. May we hope that those who  come for an Edgar Wallace thriller (or whatever the equivalent today of an Edgar Wallace thriller) may eventually, by their continued coming, be tempted to higher things and find that reading can nourish their minds with food fully charged with the mental vitamins of A, B, C, D and even E, if only they will use the right books.”

Because of the educational value of public libraries, the speaker was sure all would agree that it was the right policy to encourage children to come to the library.

“But while we are so anxious for our children’s mental training, do not let us forget that the heart needs training also” went on the Mayor.

“Is there not a lurking danger that in the search for knowledge the heart may be overlooked? The intelligence of the young may be raised to the highest level of which it is capable without making them good citizens either of their own country or of the world. A Scots saying has it “The heart’s aye the part aye that makes us right or wrong.”

“Un this beneficent work public libraries can play a great part. So I do hope sincerely that the children’s library and reading room will be largely used”

All things to all men

In proposing a vote of thanks to the Mayor, said he had to be all things to all men; at one moment he was organising a municipal effort to raise funds; at another  he was displaying admirable horsemanship – (laughter) ; at the next, opening a library.

Mrs Rackham referred to a Latin Motto over one library which meant “Where the bees are, there is the honey.” She thought the Library Committee could say that wherever they spread the honey in the form of books, there had always been bees in the shape of readers.

Dr Bidder, speaking on behalf of residents in the district, said that the occasion was historic from another point of view, in addition to the already mentioned – it was the first time the chain of office had been seen in New Cherry Hinton!

After expressing appreciation for the provision of the library, Dr Bidder remarked: “I didn’t like the Mayor’s advice on reading. I don’t like Edgar Wallace. What I should advise for the young is Gibbon and Prof Treveleyan, and for my contemporaries, Dorothy Sayers and David Frome!” (Laughter)

After the opening ceremony those present inspected the building.”


Nearly 30 years later in 1964, just before her death, an 89 year old Clara Rackham further commented on Cambridge’s libraries in what was possibly her last ever interview.

“A new central library is already very much needed, for the excellence of the staff cannot make up for the inconvenience of the building.”

“I should not like to see the skyscrapers projecting over Cambridge skyline and I should really like to see the centre of Cambridge left as far as possible as it is at present” 


640401 Clara Rackham aged 89


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