Skip to main content

Soul of the City: a vision for the future of public libraries in Hull

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Case study

[Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Dr Richard Heseltine, Chair of the James Reckitt Library Trust]

Public libraries in Hull must be unique in having the support of a major philanthropic trust that allows it to continue to invest in new services, to experiment and to innovate.  The James Reckitt Library Trust manages an endowment established in 1892 by Sir James Reckitt, the pioneer industrialist and Quaker philanthropist, one of Hull’s greatest citizens.

Libraries were among Sir James Reckitt’s many philanthropic passions. He campaigned tirelessly for the establishment by the City Corporation of public libraries in Hull and, at his own cost, built the first free library in the City, the James Reckitt Library in east Hull. The opening of the Western Library in 1895, the first to be established from the public purse, was a direct result of his campaigning efforts.

Investment in libraries

The James Reckitt Library Endowment now helps to develop public library provision throughout the city. Over the past six years, the Trust has awarded almost £4 million to projects and activities designed to: stimulate a love of reading and learning, particularly among children and young people; to encourage those who might not normally use public library services to do so; and to raise awareness of what modern public libraries can offer through investment in innovative projects in support of the arts, cultural heritage and business.

We have also invested heavily in the redevelopment of library spaces, notably in the creation of a new music library. And the Trust will be a major funder of the public library contribution to Hull City of Culture 2017. The money we grant comes entirely from the income from the endowment – we are not a fund-raising charity.

In recent months, the Trust has begun work to develop a highly progressive, future-looking vision of the future of public libraries, both in Hull and nationally. As well as having an impact locally, we want to position Hull as a leading progressive voice in the national debate about the future of this country’s public library system. This effort has been supported by both the Leader and Chief Executive of Hull City Council, and we work closely with the Council to ensure that our vision connects with wider city strategies. We believe that our ideas gain greater traction by being linked with big concepts such as ‘smart cities’ and ‘magnet cities’. Hull is a place where public libraries are still seen as having an important contribution to make to the redefinition and redevelopment of the city.

The Soul of the City

Our vision of the future of public libraries is contained in a manifesto that we call The Soul of the City. The vision is based on four pillars:

First, we believe that great cities build great libraries, and that great libraries can make a powerful contribution to the brand of a city. We want to see the building of a new, architecturally-inspiring, reconceptualised library in Hull, a library designed to support the evolving vision of what the City as a whole should look like in 2035, a powerful symbol of the city’s confidence in the future and a beacon for education and learning.

Second, we want to develop new and innovative ways of delivering library services to all communities throughout the city, recognising that the creation of inspiring digital spaces is central to this.

Third, we believe in deep collaboration between public libraries and other common purpose organisations – museums, galleries, archives, theatres, concert halls, information services – any organisation committed to knowledge and culture.

Finally, we want to position public libraries as part of the creative and digital industries sector, helping to enrich it and to encourage its growth.

Finale of the Freedom Festival, Freedom To Tell Tales
Finale of the Freedom Festival, Freedom To Tell Tales

What next?

We now want to move from vision to blueprint. We want to engage with as many people and organisations as possible - locally, nationally and internationally. We very much welcome the work of the Libraries Taskforce in trying to develop a positive agenda for public libraries, and we recognise that solutions to the crisis facing public libraries cannot be solved purely at a local level. Local authorities need a national framework too, and positive government backing. We look forward to contributing as the Taskforce moves forward with its next steps following the consultation on Libraries Deliver. The more we can work together, the richer our mutual understanding of the future will become.

To find out more, visit and follow us on Twitter: @jrlthull.


Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Carl Clayton posted on

    Hi Richard
    Soul of the City contains a very exciting vision for the future of libraries in Hull. I was particularly interested in your references to good practice in other countries e.g. Aarhus in Denmark and I have recently been on a study tour of the Netherlands.

  2. Comment by Tony posted on

    So why has the James Reckitt Library been left derelict for 10 years ?