Launceston gained its very first library in 1825, located in John Fawkner's Cornwall Hotel, Cameron Street.
He placed advertisements in the local papers in June of that year to let the community know he had opened it.
This followed a European trend of subscription libraries that dated back to the first of its kind in 1725 that was opened by Scottish poet Allan Ramsay.
Fawkner's was the first of many such libraries.
Subscription libraries, also known as circulating libraries, charged a fee for loaning books. Some had an annual fee and some charged both.
Fawkner's library continued until 1831 when it was moved to Mr GL Gooch's home in Charles Street.
There were 11 known libraries to advertise regularly in the local papers.
It must have appeared a good money-maker at the time.
James Hill's library in St John Street opened in 1835, moving to Brisbane Street the following year then disappearing the year after that.
Mr Riva's circulating library boasted over 400 books in 1848 with a fee of two guineas a year.
You could also borrow as a non-subscriber for three shillings per item, the standard borrowing fee.
Again, this was a short endeavour and his contents were being advertised for sale by 1852.
Others opening during the 1800s were Samuel Tegg, Henry Dowling, Blake, Thomas Birch, Fitzgerald Bros, Hopwood & James, Rich, Bastin and, more famously, A.W. Mayhead.
Many of these were attached to stationery sellers or private homes and many continued under new names when sold. Hopwood & James became T. Hood & Co in 1895 after trading for five years, eventually closing in 1899.
Not all subscriptions were profit driven. Community groups also opened libraries.
The Holy Trinity Church committee met in 1829 to vote on starting a library and later in 1888 the Convent Schools were fundraising for a library.
In 1909 the Northern Law Society library had a membership of 61 people and in 1925 the Launceston Hospital put a call out for a library for its patients.
Subscription libraries continued through to the mid-1950s.
Birchall's, one well-known institution had a subscription library for many decades and actually had to close their doors in 1903 for a month due to the smallpox epidemic.
In 1919, the health officer allowed all circulating libraries to re-open with a maximum of three customers at a time after the influenza epidemic.
The Launceston Mechanics' Institute remains our most famous subscription library and the precursor to our modern library.
By 1935 memberships were dwindling and complaints were being received that a subscription was still required when Hobart library was free.
A decade later subscription was wiped, and the Launceston Public Library was declared free of charge and remains so to this day.
- Connect with the past through Launceston Historical Society - facebook.com/launcestonhistory