From the Changing Face of Ormskirk series:
By Clifford Rimmer, Librarian
When the Lancashire County Library opened its first library centre in Ormskirk in 1926, it was housed in a room adjoining the old Fire Station in Derby Street, and opened for four hours a week.
Borrowers visiting the library would see on the opposite side of the road a very fine example of Georgian architecture, Knowles House, and it is intriguing to note that on the site of this house, only a few yards, but 34 years away, from the place it began, the Ormskirk library came to its present home.
Before that time, however, the library was moved in 1940 to converted shop premises at 42 Aughton Street, where the adult library was housed upstairs in the “front bedroom” and the children’s library In the “bark bedroom”.
Although this move, with its much improved selection of books, was greatly appreciated by the readers of Ormskirk, some of whom will still remember with nostalgia the homely atmosphere of the adult library, with its cheerful open fire during the winter months, it was not very long before its inadequacy was being felt.
The Ormskirk library became the divisional headquarters for the surrounding district, including the libraries at Maghull, Rainford, Skelmersdale and Burscough, and a large number of library centres in the smaller villages.
Mobiles take to the road
The problem became acute when, in 1948, the first of the mobile libraries began operating from the library, to serve an area of some 130 square miles of South-West Lancashire.
The facilities for the storage of books were almost non-existent, and the condition of the premises was such that books allowed to remain -on the store shelves for more than a few weeks mildewed or, at the least, became musty.
The present library did not make its appearance without complaints from some Ormskirk residents, who felt, not without justification, that they should do all in their power to preserve the best of the old town, among which was included Knowles House.
It was suggested that the facade and some proportion of the house should be retained and extensions added at the back of the house.
Apart from the architectural difficulties, this conflicted with the functional requirements of a modern library and it was necessary to demolish this fine house which is preserved only in photographs in the possession of the library.
The building which, in 1960 seemed to be the last word in library architecture, already appears dated, its air of solidity, both inside and outside, contrasts strangely with the lighter and less stolid libraries now being erected in the county.
But despite occasional criticisms from the architectural standpoint, the consensus of opinion, particularly among newcomers to the town, is one of surprise that a relatively small town such as Ormskirk has so impressive a library.
A visit to the present library, particularly on a busy Saturday, shows it to be not just a place for borrowing books, but a social rendezvous for all the family to visit and a workshop for the student, who possibly regrets occasionally that perfect silence is no longer possible or indeed desirable.
Copyright Liverpool Daily Post