21 Reasons Why Worthing Should Have a Public Library: An 1892 Campaign for Our Times

Research output: Other contribution


In the last decade, public library closures have become a regular and regrettable occurrence. Government austerity policies have radically reduced local councils’ budgets, forcing tough decisions with limited finances. Libraries are characterised as luxuries when culture is made to compete for cash with other public services. What libraries are for, and who they benefit, has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent times, and contemporary campaigns to keep libraries in operation have been vociferous and creative, employing a range of tools of protest and persuasion from poetry to posters. In 1892, in Worthing, West Sussex, a library campaign played out on the streets through similarly creative means. In the first instance, large-scale notices appeared on hoardings all over the town. Two and a half feet high, these text-heavy bill posters used the visual style of election materials to respond to the provocation, “Why Should Worthing Have a Public Library”. Produced in a bright type by W. F. Churcher, a town councillor and the editor of the Worthing Gazette, as part of an ambitious campaign spearheaded by a young solicitor, Robert W. Charles, the poster sought to harness the growing energy of the so-called ‘public library movement’ for the benefit of the town. This 2,750-word essay, produced for the Worthing Museum & Art Gallery / University of Brighton research collaboration, Objects Unwrapped, explores the campaigns for and against public libraries in the late nineteenth century through the case study of the fortunes of one particular library in Worthing, West Sussex, UK. By examining the campaign documentation - ranging across posters, handbills, song lyrics and letters to the press - the article considers the hopes and fears ascribed to working-class reading and public knowledge, past and present.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Brighton
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


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