1871 to 2021 timeline - 150 years in pictures of Derby Libraries

library book shelfs with women sorting books out

Wed 12 May 2021

Derby Libraries are marking 150 years in the city!

Staff have been digging through the archives, and a full history of the service, to make this timeline of key moments. The Derby Libraries Facebook page will also highlight various aspects of their history.

Derby’s first free public library was officially opened on Wardwick on 12 October 1871, some 19 years after the country’s first public library opened in Manchester. Within 5 years, the increasing popularity of the service meant that a new building would be needed to house the growing collection.

A generous donation from Michael Thomas Bass MP allowed a larger, purpose-built library, museum, and art gallery to be built on the existing site, which was officially opened in 1879. Following the end of the First World War the first branch libraries also arrived in Alvaston and Peartree with ‘open access’, allowing Derby readers to browse the shelves themselves.

The service has continued to build its legacy into the 20th and 21st Centuries, embracing eBooks and the internet to further encourage literacy and a love of reading. This has been vital to many during lockdown, as residents could continue to access digital collections and free IT access.

Cllr Robin Wood, Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture, said: “The fact that our libraries have been serving the city for 150 years is a remarkable achievement and is evidence of how valued they are. Throughout that time, they’ve helped people through some of the most challenging periods of history, and have been there for the celebrations as well.

“The ways that we research things of interest and enjoy stories have changed since the library was opened, but they’re still very important places in our city. I would like to thank all our current and past staff for their work serving our city for 150 years. Here’s to 150 more.”

A full timeline of the history of Derby Libraries will be available to view on the InDerby website. The Derby Libraries Facebook page will also be highlighting aspects of their history throughout the year.

Later in the year there will be a writing competition, where you can get creative and weave together a short story or poem inspired by our shared history.

There will also be the chance for you to share your own library memories. How long have you been a member? Which library did you join at? What was the first book you loaned?

You can send your stories by email to the local studies team.



The Public Libraries Act 1850 was passed, allowing local boroughs to establish free public libraries.


Proposed free library report.

report papers of the free library proposal in 1869


The Town and County Museum is purchased by the Borough, refurbished and the library expanded.

Official opening of a newsroom and reading room on 12 October. Alexander Croall appointed as Derby’s first Librarian. 8,625 books for loan and 4,060 reference volumes. Opening hours 10am to 9pm


Following the success of the new library, Michael Thomas Bass MP offers £4500 for the erection of a purpose-built structure. A second Librarian Thomas Heath appointed.


R.K Freeman of Bolton wins an Architectural competition to build Derby’s new library. Michael Thomas Bass increases his offer to £8000 and the Borough Council provide the site.


Temporary library opens at the old grammar school in St Peter’s Yard. Invitation sent out for the first laying of the stone for the new Central library and Museum by MP Thomas Michael Bass. American Librarian Melvil Dewey publishes his decimal classification system.

certificate of laying of the first stone for new central library and museum by MP Thomas Michael Bass.


7th Duke of Devonshire presented a fine collection of books gathered for him by the late Llewellyn Jewitt to Derby Libraries, now known as the Devonshire collection.

Official opening of the Central library and Museum by MP Thomas Michael Bass took place with the accompaniment of rejoice in which the entire town of Derby participated with closure of shops and streets decorated with garlands.  Stock collection of 11,600 books.

The first reference library catalogue is published, compiled by Librarian Thomas Heath.

Resignation of Librarian Thomas Heath. His successor Mr Harry Allpass was accused of falsifying accounts and an warrant was put out for his arrest.

Mr William Crowther appointed librarian.

Children’s library department opened at the Central Library. Newsroom opened in Rosehill near entrance to the Arboretum.

American Librarian and archivist Nina Browne invents the Browne book issuing system

Trial of ‘open access’ in reference library at the Central library. Readers allowed access to the books on the shelves rather than obtained by request.

Following the death of William Crowther in November 1911, the office of Librarian and Curator is divided into two separate posts. Mr G H Dutton is appointed as Museum Curator and Secretary and Mr W H Walton, who had been sub-librarian since 1890, appointed as Librarian.

£10,000 offered by Carnegie United Kingdom to Derby Borough Libraries towards the building of two new branch libraries (Pear Tree Library and London Road Alvaston Library) A competition to design the new branch libraries was won by Mr Arthur Eaton (Alvaston)  and Mr C. B. Sherwin (Peartree)

Lord Curzon of Kedleston raises a public subscription to purchase Sir Henry Howe Bemrose’s book collection for Derby Borough Libraries, following his death in 1911. The collection consisted of over 7,000 volumes realting to Derby and Derbyshire. Andrew Carnegie donates £1,000 towards an extension to house the collection.

1914 written letter to Curzon from Carnegie

Central Library extended to house the newly acquired Bemrose collection. Plans drawn up to put railings in front of the Central Library.

Opening of Carnegie branch Libraries for Peartree and Alvaston by His Worship the Mayor Albert Green with both libraries partially requisitioned for the war effort.

old pear tree library in 1916 buildings attached in black and white photo


Libraries Act of 1919 passed. Derbyshire County Libraries established.

Peartree library and Alvaston library now both fully open for library purpose

1920 exterior of  Alvaston Caregie building in black and white

Derby Borough Libraries fully adopt an open access service, allowing customers to browse the shelves. Derby Central library closed to implement the Dewey Decimal Classification. Derby Library annual issue of books exceeds 300,000.

Reopening of Derby Central library with the new Decimal Dewey system which immediately was immensely popular. Browne book issue system adopted by Derby Borough Libraries. 

Derby Borough Libraries annual issue of books exceeds 500,000.

Retirement of librarian W.H Walton. Memento presented signed by all Derby Borough Libraries staff members.  Succeeded by Mr. F Williamson, curator of Derby Museum and Art Gallery. 

1930 document county borough of Derby with all signatures

Mr Archibald B. Scot first Librarian for Littleover County library. He also published a book history of Littleover and its churches in 1916.

Exhibition of modern painting held at the Central Library.

Exhibition of Airports and Airways held at the Central Library.

Allestree County library opens. Central Library basement converted for use as an air-raid shelter.

James Omerod is appointed as Borough Librarian.

Library service for patients introduced at Kingsway hospital.

Expansion of several part time library service points contained within existing buildings in response to serving expanding residential areas. Roe Farm Junior School was first, followed by six more, spread around Derby’s borough. Ernest Bletcher is appointed as Borough Librarian.

Derby Borough Libraries bookbinding department moves from the Central Library to Peartree Library. Reference Department start work on classification of 10,000+ books.

1949 inside lending library, classic book shelfs and photo taken in black and white  man with white apron standing at desk, looking at the bookswide view of the library book shelfs and a table with a man reading a book

Closure of Derby Central Library newsroom to be taken over for administrate purposeand to create more workspace for staff. Public advised to use the newsrooms at Peartree and Alvaston libraries.

Newsroom at Derby Central Library reopens.

Work starts on an extension to the Wardwick building to house the Reference Library and provide additional gallery space for the Museum and Art Gallery. Funding for the extension was bequeathed by local art collector Alfred Goodey.

The Public Libraries Act is passed, making provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service a statutory service.

The newly built wing on The Strand is opened, with an enlarged Reference library on the ground floor, now separated from the local studies department, with the Museum and art Gallery moving into the upper floors. Iron spiral staircase to the balcony above the lending library is removed as part of the works. 

outside a building, men and women sat on benches relaxing

Allestree Library opens at Park Farm.  

outside public library front door

The 1968 ‘Derby Order’ sees the extension of Derby Borough boundaries to include residential suburbs of: Littleover, Mickleover, Spondon, Chaddesden and Allestree. Due to the boundary expansion Derby Borough Library service gained four full time branches and four part-time branches, 34 members of staff and over 60,000 volumes. As a result of the change the libraries' administrative and bibliographic unit is transferred to Normanton Barracks.  

Normanton library, women looking through the books

Book ordering and receipt section of Central Library moved to Bold Lane and then to Normanton Barracks, which housed the regional library headquarters, schools’ services and the main reserve stock of 45,000 book volumes. Retirement of librarian Ernest Bletcher, succeeded by Roy Marston.

Opening of Mickleover Library after converting parts of Mickleover memorial hut.

Chellaston library rehoused to the premises of the Golden Hour Club on Maple Drive.

Centenary of Derby Library service. Occasion celebrated with events, competitions and a centenary dinner. Book stock of nearly 400,000 and over 2 and a half million books issued per year.

Books in Hindi available for loan from Peartree Library for the first time. Plans unveiled for a new Central Library to be built on Tenant St.

Blagreaves Library to house and replace Administrative/Bibliographical Unit at Normanton Barracks as well as providing a new branch library for Littleover.

Official opening of Blagreaves Lane Library. Opened by the poet Stephen Spender with a plaque unveiling. Plans to spend £9,260 to improve branch libraries Allestree, Chaddesden and Spondon.

women getting a book and a man passing over the book in the library

Derby Central Library designated a National Tourist Office. Opened by the first chairman to the English Tourist Board Sir Mark Henig.


Plans for the new library on Tenant Street are shelved.

Implementation of a computerised book issue system at Derby Central Library. It was dubbed "The £60,000 Brain" and paved the way for libraries across the county.

Derby Borough Libraries annual issue of books exceeds 750,000.

1977 three people around a computerized issue desk

Derby Central Library Centenary Celebration. Occasion celebrated with a series of events and displays for the public.

All Derby libraries now using computerised book issuing system.

The Lithuanian community present Derby Central Library with books.

Community events including Islamic night and Indian festival held at Pear Tree library.

Reopening of Peartree library after £70,000 modernisation program.

First meeting of Club 55 for retired people over 55 hosted at Derby Libraries.

First Derby Library Toy Lending service opens at Derwent Library.

Bernard Haigh replaces V. Langworthy as Librarian.

women in toy library arranging all the toys on the shelfs

Derby Central Library closes its doors for a £170,000 facelift including installation of ramped access.

A flood damages books stored in Pear Tree Library basement.

Reopening of Derby Central Library by Margaret Becket MP after £170,000 facelift.

Derby City Council takes over Tourist Information Centre at Derby Central Library.

Allestree Library celebrates 25 years anniversary

Training and Access Point sets up at Peartree library. 

training and access point machine set up and 3 men and 1 women

Childrens board games for loan set up at Derby Central Library.

Toy Library at Derwent library scrapped.

Derby Central is the busiest library in Derbyshire with over 50,000 visitors. 

women with lots of toys stacked up around her


Compact discs introduced at Littleover and Blagreaves

Compact disc loans are introduced at Sinfin Library.

Derby Community arts sets up a photography studio at Peartree to introduce people to photography.

Derby Libraries celebrates 125thanniversary. Pear Tree Celebrates 80th Anniversary.

Derby Libraries bids for computer technology investment.

Launch of CyberRam. Public computer access available at Derby Central Library.  Opened by MP Margaret Becket. 

Presentation of Public Library Challenge Fund of £97,604 to Derby Libraries presented by Minster for Art MP Mark Fisher. 

women and man on a computer desk system

Homework club rolled out across Derby Libraries to help children with after school homework, first set up at Pear Tree Library.

Creation of Derby mobile library. A van was outfitted with a mobile library to bring Derby's library service to more rural communities. Extension of Derby Libraries home book delivery scheme.

New mobile library van

Signing of the Public service agreement at Chaddesden Library. Project Alvaston launched for the building of a new library at Alvaston.

‘Learn at your library’IT based training service launched

Launch of Derby's Living Archive oral history project and Picture the Past photo digitisation project.

Launch of children's mobile library reading rocket, which was covered in illustrations by the children’s author and illustrator Nick Sharrat.

Opening of Alvaston Library.

Free internet access at all Derby libraries introduced

Project LiRa Consultation launched and plans submitted for building of new libraries for Allenton, Chellaston and Mackworth, with funding from the National Lottery.

Opening of new Allenton Library – this suburb was previously served by the mobile library.

Self-service machines to be introduced to Derby Central, Sinfin and Springwood libraries in April, following a pilot scheme at Mickleover and Alvaston libraries

A Fines Amnesty for overdue books unearths one that is 46 years overdue! 

excavator with women driving and 3 people stood on the ground with shovels


Chellaston and Mackworth libraries opened to public.

Job club starts at Derby Central Library.

outside on road Mackworth library


Local Studies moves from Iron gate to Riverside Chambers.

Launch of Code Club at Derby Central Library with Sinfin and Allestree Library to also offer courses

3 children surrounding laptop


Consultation on the future of Derby library services. Strategic review launched.


Derby's History digitised collection goes online.


Closure of Central Library. New Riverside Library opened, located within the Derby's Council House.                                                           

Handing over of council libraries to DHA to be community lead. Sinfin library is Derby's first Community Managed Library.

man standing at the front of library telling group of children a story

Opening of Normanton Library in St Augustine’s Community Centre. 

The Mayor opening normanton library

Derby Libraries respond to Covid-19 Pandemic with a Click and Collect service and 'essential use' public computer access.

Derby Libraries reinstate a Browse and Borrow service as lockdown measures are eased.

Celebration of 150 years of Derby Library service!