Miss Lillie Rourke

When Paddington Council set out to recruit a Librarian for its service in March 1900, the advertisement invited applications from ‘persons (of either sex) qualified to fill the position’. The inclusion of this explicit prompt suggests that Council was ready to employ a woman in this role. The salary offered was £52 per annum - a significant decrease from the £78 per annum advertised three years earlier, in 1897, when the position of Librarian first became a salaried, independent role. 1

paddington library newspaper
The Daily Telegraph 30 March 1900 p. 8.

The number of applications received - 130 - became a matter for press comment, as did the appointment of the first woman to occupy the position, headlined in one newspaper as ‘A Lady Librarian’, and reported by another as the selection of ‘one of the frailer sex’.2 In fact the number of respondents was fewer than had answered the 1897 advertisement, when Maurice Felton had been appointed.

The successful applicant in 1900 was Miss Lillie Rourke, a twenty-six year old with a university degree (a Bachelor of Arts) which in later years took her into a career as a teacher, with appointments to Newcastle and later, Fort Street Girls’ School.

During Lillie Rourke’s period in the role of Librarian at Paddington, the service, the revenue derived from it and the running costs, all came under increasing scrutiny. This culminated in a report presented to Council by its Library Committee in January 1907, which examined every aspect of the expenditure involved in the running of the Library – even down to the notional loss of £75 per year, had the Town Hall space dedicated to the Library been hired to outside users.3

While Lillie Rourke’s salary is reported, as advertised, at £52 in the first year of her employment at Paddington, it appears to have risen slowly across the ensuing years, to be reported at over £73 per annum in the statements of Library expenditure compiled in January 1907.

The report of the Library Committee did not result in the closure of the service, but a decision to reduce the hours of opening, purchase no new materials, and return the salary of the Librarian to £52 per annum. The outcome may well have proved almost as crushing to Lillie Rourke as a decision to close the Library, given later in 1907, Paddington Council was again recruiting for a new Librarian.

1The Daily Telegraph 30 March 1900 p. 8

2 ‘A Rush for a small post’ Sunday Times 8 April 1900 p. 7; "A Lady Librarian" The Daily Telegraph 16 April 1900 p. 4

3 Municipality of Paddington Annual Report for the Year ended 4 February 1908 pp.19-22