On 18 October 1975, J.B. Priestley opened the Library that bears his name at the University of Bradford. We know a great deal about the opening ceremony thanks to files in the University Archive and this week’s Object, an album of photographs taken on the day and presented to Priestley as a memento. This later returned to the University as part of Priestley’s Archive.
Proceedings began the night before with a small dinner party in “one of the private dining rooms” in the main building. The menu survives: Florida Cocktail or Spring Vegetable Soup, then sole, lamb, and Cherry Cheese Cake. Harold Wilson, the University’s first Chancellor and Prime Minister at the time, wrote to Vice-Chancellor Ted Edwards that “the warmth of the occasion surpassed even the high quality of the cuisine”.
Priestley and Harold Wilson looking at book by shelves in new J.B. Priestley Library
On the day, the Chancellor and Priestley spoke, Priestley unveiled a plaque, then the party toured the new building and had a buffet lunch before the University car whizzed the Priestleys back to their home in Stratford. The event was planned to the last detail, including the whereabouts of umbrellas and keeping the lift free for Priestley to use (he was then over eighty).
Harold Wilson and J.B. Priestley, with pipes
The new Library building (which was supplemented by an extension in the 1990s) was five levels high, one floor occupied by the Computer Centre. The publicity campaign emphasised what was described as a “whole phalanx of mechanical and electronic aids to ease the paths of users” of both services. The rapid expansion of the University from the Bradford Institute of Technology had put considerable pressure on library services. The new building transformed what was possible for staff and students. From the 1959 situation of two rooms crammed with 9,000 out of date books (which could not be browsed) staffed by two assistants, 1975 offered students over 200,000 volumes, 53 professional and support staff and a pioneering system of subject librarians offering specialist help.
Brochure for J.B. Priestley Library and Computer Centre 1975
This year the GLEE building project is transforming the upper floors of the Library. J.B.’s album (along with our other archives) records these areas as they were imagined at the time, as impressive modern facilities which aimed to provide the best possible environment and services for students: we hope to do the same today with the new facilities.
Posted in Priestley, JB, Jacquetta Hawkes, University of Bradford
Tagged University of Bradford, Jacquetta Hawkes, Priestley, Libraries, Archives, Photographs, Harold Wilson, 1970s
We’ve now shown 25 Objects: a quarter of the way through the exhibition. We’re really enjoying writing about and sharing the wonderful stories behind the Special Collections at the University of Bradford: we hope you find them interesting too. Please let us know via blog comments or otherwise contacting us if you have something to say about the Objects.
This site has had over 5000 views, not to mention all the visits to the Objects on Facebook, Flickr and now Youtube. We would never have been able to fit you all into the Reading Room to see the Objects for real, which shows how online exhibitions can bring Special Collections and people together as never before.
The most popular Object (site views): Singing Sixties!
Most popular (Twitter buzz): Dr Raistrick’s maps. This image of one of his maps is the most popular image on the site.
Most popular Google search to reach this exhibition: bizarrely, “Clarkson Book Support System”. Lots of librarians must be looking for their own Foam Family. The next most popular is, fittingly, the University of Bradford Coat of Arms, part of our history with a story behind it.
Foam Family ready to help
Special Collections at Bradford offers a range of materials to help staff and readers handle fragile objects carefully. For example, the Clarkson Book Support System, which we call the Foam Family. The System was designed by conservator Christopher Clarkson with Polyformes (also available from other conservation supply firms). The foam wedges range in size from mini to massive and help support open volumes so their spines aren’t broken. We also offer booksnakes and weights, to hold down maps and other rolled items without damage. Pencils avoid damage from ink; cotton gloves keep photographs free of sweat.
Foam Family at work
Special Collections staff teach our visitors how to handle original archives and rare books with understanding and respect. This is part of our preservation policy. Special Collections, like most organisations, has very limited funding available for conservation work on individual items. So we rely on preservation: simple, cost-effective ideas which prevent damage to collections occurring in the first place.