The victorian novel

Use it or lose it: has the public library had its day?

I write this in a garret a few doors down from the public library in Muswell Hill, north London. It is a nice irony that a century and a half ago, on the site where the free-to-join municipal library now stands, was a villa owned by one Charles Edward Mudie. In the mid-19th century, Mudie had amassed a fortune by establishing a hugely successful lending library where subscribers could either pay a guinea a year to borrow as many books as they could read, or take the pay-as-you-go option of a shilling a book. For purely commercial reasons, Mudie was a staunch supporter of novels that were long enough (c.200,000