WHERE IS IT? On North Street, overlooking the motorway at Berkeley Street, just along from Charing Cross
One of Europe’s largest and picturesque public libraries, the category B listed Mitchell Library has served as a hub for Glasgow’s learning since it opened in 1911, and is now host to over one million books and sources of knowledge.
Construction began five years earlier in 1906, following an architectural design competition that was eventually won by Glasgow architect William Brown Whitie. However, despite Whitie’s Edwardian baroque design falling outside the Victorian Era, the library is connected to the old St. Andrew’s Halls that date back to 1877, although they are now known as the Mitchell Theatre. Coincidentally, this was the same year the original library formed.
The library was built at the behest of tobacco merchant Stephen Mitchell, whose company, Stephen Mitchell & Son, would later merge with several others to form the Imperial Tobacco Company. Upon his death in 1874, Mitchell left most of his estate to the council with the expressed wishes of forming a grand public library. This was initially succeeded through a temporary building on Ingram Street in 1877, but its vast collection of both books and readers outgrew the tight confines of the city centre. This was compounded when Scottish traveller Robert Jeffrey donated his vast collection to the library upon his death in 1902. When the new building was finally constructed, it included the Jeffrey Reference Library, which consisted of all his gifts.
Mitchell Library has undergone several changes since it opened over a century ago. The biggest was when the adjacent St. Andrew’s Halls was gutted by a fire in 1962. After much debate, the library was allowed to expand, with Sir Frank Mears & Partners designing the extension work, which was completed almost twenty years later in 1981. A previous extension was started in 1936 to provide a Magazine Room, although it had been suspended during World War II, and was only completed in 1963.
The building has also moved with the times, transforming the Main Reading Hall into an exhibition space in 2005. Electronic information was pushed into focus; in 2006 the library started lending music for the first time, with further developments in 2007 and 2008 providing a range of computers and other hi-tech resources to the public.
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