Last November Glasgow’s magnificent Mitchell Library celebrated its 100th anniversary at Charing Cross. Although the bequest of the tobacco manufacturer Stephen Mitchell first opened in 1877 on the corner of Ingram Street and Albion Street, it is in its current location, looking down on the roaring M8 traffic, that it has made a name as one of the foremost reference libraries in Europe.
To celebrate its venerable history, Karen Cunningham, Head of Glasgow Libraries and Director of Aye Write! festival, had the idea of choosing two of the best books published each decade across the past century, and gathering extracts from each of them to make a volume for the library’s annual free city read programme, which for the first time ever will be available in libraries across all of Scotland. This sampler is intended to give a flavour of the range of literary treasure the Mitchell Library, and Scotland, has witnessed in one hundred years – to provide, in effect, a shorthand guide to some of the most influential books from that period that should sit on everyone’s bookshelf, whether that shelf is real or simply in one’s head.
Karen Cunningham gathered a judging panel comprising some of the most eager and greedy readers in the city: Professor Willy Maley from Glasgow University, and herself, Susan Taylor and Mary Greenshields from Glasgow Libraries. She asked me, as Literary Editor of The Herald and Sunday Herald, to be chair.