'Readerships and Literary Cultures 1900-1950' Special Collection


BookshelvesSheffield Hallam University has established a collection of books which reflects the wide range of literary tastes during the period 1900-1950. The collection consists of over 1200 novels, most in early editions, by 240 different authors. It is important to collect and research these novels because these are what the majority of people read: they were the best-sellers of their day and the lending library favourites. These novels therefore have the potential to reveal an enormous amount about readerships, attitudes to reading, and cultural life. They are rarely preserved systematically elsewhere: university libraries have never collected this type of fiction, while public libraries disposed of such books once they fell out of fashion. You can download a list of the authors we hold in the collection, with details of the genre and subject terms used to catalogue them.



The collection was started by Dr Mary Grover, who currently runs the Reading Sheffield project. Most of the books in the Collection have been donated by the public, and we would be delighted to receive more interesting early editions of well-loved novels.


We hold collection events twice a year, with talks, film screenings and the opportunity to meet other people interested in popular fiction of the period. They are open to all, and we especially welcome people from outside the university. See photos of the official opening of the Special Collection in December 2011. See our Events page.

Reading Groups

We hold regular reading groups where readers have the opportunity to borrow books from the collection (normally reference only). We also invite readers to fill in a cataloguing form for the novels and write a short review. The reading groups are held on the first Monday and second Tuesday of the month at 5.30 until 7pm.

For more information about the collection, to attend the events, reading groups, or to offer books for donation, contact Chris Hopkins at c.i.hopkins [at] shu.ac.uk.


The collection produced a Newsletter during the period when Dr Erica Brown was employed as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow on the project:

Issue 1 November 2012

Issue 2 April 2013

Issue 3 December 2013

Data gathering - how to contribute

The collection catalogue contains a wealth of data on the novels and can be searched by genre, subject and donor. We are now collecting even more data, including plot summaries and details of literary and cultural references within the novels. This will enable more sophisticated searches of this exciting research resource. We are actively seeking contributions to this data collection: learn how to contribute.


Read book reviews at the collection blog http://reading19001950.wordpress.com/


How to

Search the Readerships and Literary Cultures Special Collection

Sheffield Libraries

Our collection is reference only (unless you come to a reading group). However, Sheffield Libraries have a wonderful store of out-of-print novels, including many from this period. It is a veritable treasure-trove and all can be ordered and then borrowed in the usual way. Their catalogue search can be limited to the out-of-print store by selecting 'Manor Store'.

Articles about the Collection

Our event 'Yorkshire Writers 1900-1950' inspired an article in the Yorkshire Post in October 2013: 'Forgotten Pleasures'. Stephen McClarence asks 'is there such a thing as the great Yorkshire novel?'

The launch of the Collection in November 2010: 'Rattling good reads', Yorkshire Post. Stephen McClarence writes: 'a novel archive of novels from the first half of the 20th century, the sort that literary snobs have sneered at for decades and that high-minded public libraries have chucked in skips.'

The official opening of the Collection in December 2011: 'Forgotten writers who won't be pulped', Yorkshire Post and 'Forgotten novelists get a second outing', Information World Review.

Arts and Humanities Research CouncilUniversity of Strathclyde Sheffield Hallam University

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