The shelf life of Luton’s many libraries through time

Building work at Luton Central Library in 1961.
Building work at Luton Central Library in 1961.
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Luton Central Library in St George’s Square opened in 1962 and was later visited by the Queen.

In their book The Story Of Luton, published two years later, local historians James Dyer and John Dony wrote that the new library was built “in a modern and refreshing style with a gramophone record and music library, as well as a theatre and lecture room”.

But was it really as architecturally pleasing to the eye as the lovely old building it replaced, the Carnegie Library?

Situated on the corner of George Street and Williamson Street, where Toby Carvery now stands, this public library had been a gift to the town from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

He was present when it was opened in 1910 by Whitelaw Reid, the American ambassador who lived at Wrest Park, Silsoe. Carnegie was added to the list of honorary freemen of the borough.

The Carnegie Library served a useful purpose for more than 50 years before it was no longer adequate for the needs of Lutonians.

Such had been the case with the library it had replaced, the Free Library, which had been built on the same site in 1883.

Although it was in use for 27 years, its chief defect was that it worked on a closed-shelf system which, while it reduced to a minimum the theft of books, gave no great encouragement to reading.

The first record of a library in Luton was at the end of the Crimean War in 1856 when one of the rooms on the ground floor of the Town Hall was rented by the Luton Literary Institution whose main function was to provide a library for its members.