Wednesday, 1 May 2013

William Ewart - Public Libraries Parliamentarian

Statue at The Oratory, Liverpool from Wikipedia
Today is the anniversary of the birth of William Ewart M.P.* (1st May 1798 - 23rd June 1869). It is partly thanks to him that the Public Libraries Act of 1850 was passed allowing city councils to levy a tax to pay for the provision of a public library service. He brought the issue of free libraries to the fore in Parliament by tabling a motion for a select committee to investigate the idea of levying local rates to support a free library.

His interest in public libraries stemmed from his ideas regarding national educational reform. He supported the concept of a board of education where education would be the job of the state, not the Church, and he thought that the state should throw open the doors of public institutions in order to promote the spread of knowledge.

In 1864, looking back at his efforts to establish free libraries, he said,
"So far as my intention went these libraries were meant for all classes. Naturally the most numerous of them, the working class, would derive most benefit from them. But I always thought that one of the good results of such institutions would be the bringing of all classes together, and uniting them by the common bond of literary pursuits."

* Sometimes confused with the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone (1809 - 1898). If their names are strikingly similar, it is because William Ewart's father, also called William, was close friends with John Gladstone and became his son's godfather.

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