'Its inhabitants are a reading people': from Cork city bookshops and voluntary libraries to the Cork Public Library, c.1792–1920

Thumbnail Image
Lantry, Margaret
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University College Cork
Published Version
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
This thesis investigates the local reading culture of Cork city over the long nineteenth century, focusing on bookshops, libraries and reading rooms. It considers the question of the affordability of reading material and the ways it was accessed by the city’s population. It begins by looking at the city’s bookshops and book auctions and, by analysing booksellers’ catalogues, establishes what was available to purchase. The high cost of books and journals put these beyond the means of most of the city’s population. Borrowing from voluntary libraries was cheaper, which was reflected in the high, if fluctuating numbers of such libraries throughout the course of the century. The thesis establishes that this patchy provision was due to funding difficulties in what was a very small market of readers who could afford the borrowing fees. It was also because access to such libraries was stratified along class and sectarian lines. For the first time, a full picture is provided of the scale and range of voluntary libraries and reading rooms established over the long nineteenth century in Cork, including commercial circulating libraries, subscription or institutional libraries, as well as some standalone reading rooms; extant catalogues have been used to assess the range and changing nature of their holdings. An important milestone in Irish library history is the passing of the Public Libraries Act in 1855, although it was to be almost four decades before the Cork Public Library opened. This delay, which was not unique to Cork, is fully investigated in this thesis as are the reasons why eventually it was decided to open the public library. Although no archive survives relating to the pre-1920 public library, fortunately the printed annual reports do and excavating these provides a wealth of data from which to ascertain the services and reading material supplied to the people as well as how much use was made of the Cork Public Library. The advent of this facility resulted in an information store that was open to all, of any religion, class, gender or economic background. Furthermore, research shows that the Cork Public Library responded to the changing demands of the society in which it was embedded. During the nineteenth century increased educational provision enabled citizens to expand their economic prospects but, as this thesis highlights, the Irish public library in particular played an, up to now, under-investigated role in the self-improvement and autonomous development of citizens. This study principally aims to demonstrate the value of focusing on libraries and reading rooms in general so as to draw attention to their key role in providing intellectual stimulation and an educational resource for people over and above that which the state was prepared to furnish for much of the long nineteenth century.
Libraries and society , Reading rooms , Books and reading , Ireland , History , 18th century , 19th century , 20th century , Popular culture , Public libraries , Cork , Carnegie libraries , Booksellers and bookselling , Bookstores , Publishers and publishing , Social aspects of libraries , Politics and culture , Social change , Libraries
Lantry, M. 2022. 'Its inhabitants are a reading people': from Cork city bookshops and voluntary libraries to the Cork Public Library, c.1792–1920. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
Link to publisher’s version