Handsworth Public Library, which occupies part of the Council House building on the Soho Road, was opened on 1st May 1880. The ratepayers had voted for a ‘penny rate’ to fund a library open to all. It was immediately popular – 28,810 volumes had been issued by the end of its first year. The first librarian was Mrs George Caitlin.
In 1882, music books were added to the stock. By then there were 2,434 borrowers, and many visitors came in to read the extensive stock of newspapers. Inevitably that included some tramps seeking refuge from the cold! The newspapers ranged from local journals such as the ‘Handsworth Herald’ to favourites of the community such as ‘The Manchester Guardian’ and ‘London Daily News’. By the time Handsworth became part of Birmingham in 1911, there were over 4,000 borrowers.
Today Handsworth Community Library is part of the Council’s service and continues to be well-used. School students come in to do their homework, many residents take advantage of the computing facilities, elders come in for a chat and to catch up on news from overseas – oh, and you can still borrow books.
Hector Pickney MBE, the self-styled ‘Mr Handsworth’, is the epitome of Handsworth being warm, welcoming and confident and at the heart of it all as tough as they come. By day he is the security guard at Handsworth Library. He has done that for nearly 30 years, and by night he manages a running club, dojo’s, charity events etc. In truth he is so much more than a security guard, as I see the relationship he has with people that are in the library. He welcomes the elderly gentlemen that come to the library in ‘Punjabi’ and tells me that they come nearly every day, as that gives them something to do. He has an easy ‘banter’ with young people, both in the library and those passing by. He knows almost every one that comes to the library and he has a great rapport with them.