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”.
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).
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 From the 1959 situation of two rooms crammed with 9,000 out of date books (which could not be browsed) staffed by two assistants, 1975 offered students over 200,000 volumes, 53 professional and support staff and a pioneering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.
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.