This is Rory Cook. He’s the Science Museum’s Corporate Information and Enquiries Officer:
If you contact the Science Museum looking for information about our business or collections, it’s quite likely Rory will deal with your request. He’s also the chap who keeps grateful staff like me me provided with historic files when we’re doing our research.
Rory was delighted to discover this lovely old vehicle in our transport collections:
Nice old van, but not just any old van. It’s the second-oldest mobile library in Britain, built for Erith Council in 1933. Why was Rory delighted? He grew up in Bexleyheath, just down the road from Erith. This van is part of his local history – and it’s his job to look after its very own historic records. Neat!
It’s based on a Ford van, specially adapted to house the library assistant and shelving for 2,000 books. The Central Library’s porter acted as driver in the separate cab:
In its first year, staff issued 58,798 books to 1658 borrowers, noting that ‘the area served is populated by middle and working-class people, and the service provided appears to be popular with all, particularly children.’
Where would we be without libraries? The great Victorian push to build free public libraries for the masses must rank as one of the finest achievements of the modern age, yet in the global digital world it’s sometimes easy to forget what’s on our doorstep.