Sunday, February 06, 2011

Library Protests

Good support in South London for the national 'read in' protest against library closures yesterday.

At Blackheath Library authors giving readings and speeches included Blake Morrison, Lucy Mangan and local historian Neil Rhind (see report at Blackheath Bugle).

At Crofton Park Library there was a good crowd, with crime writer Lindsey Davis amongst those giving readings (see report at Brockley Central).

At New Cross Library, the read-in developed into an overnight occupation. I joined them this morning when there were about 20 people present. It was all very friendly - I even spotted a (non-Lewisham) librarian doing a bit of shelving! The last hour before the planned noon departure featured some silliness with the police blocking the entrance to stop anybody else coming in and ordering the security guard to lock the toilet (though he couldn't find the key). Actually the police seemed very embarrassed to be acting as messengers and security guards for the Council's Chief Excutive's office and were clear that as no laws were being broken it wasn't really a policing matter (see more reports at Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance and SE13ure).

The selection of messages left by library users makes it clear that New Cross, like the other libraries, is highly valued.

It isn't just about the books - libraries are one of the few public spaces on our high streets where people can wander in to a warm, safe place without any pressure to spend money, maybe just to browse or read the paper.

Nor are libraries just some 'middle class leisure' pursuit, as some have disparaged them. I first moved to South London to work in libraries (including one now apparently on Lambeth's possible closure list), and then as now libraries attracted childminders, pensioners, students, stressed parents taking their kids out on rainy days, autodidacts and aspiring writers from all walks of life.

I would also urge people to remember that libraries are not just about books and buildings, but about the staff who work there. Good libraries have passionate, informed staff who know where to find information, and how to respond to the needs of a variety of users . The various 'Big Society' options being floated to transfer libraries to the 'community' (actually usually to self-appointed and unaccountable organisations who nobody asked to speak for them) don't seem to recognise this dimension at all. One of the bids put forward to take over four of Lewisham's libraries (by people associated with the Pepys Resource Centre) apparently envisages running them with one paid member of staff each and volunteers doing the rest. How is the one worker going to keep the library open while doing all the other essential tasks of running a decent library - selecting and ordering stock, chasing up inter-library loans for books not in stock, running reading groups etc.? Quite apart from the lone working health and safety aspects of this, I can't really see this being a real library service at all.

1 comment:

shaz said...

I've been reading your blog since I moved to Deptford, and I thought you might be interested in the following 'Save the Libraries' event:

Read and shout is taking place at West Norwood library on March 19th.

The event is being organised by Matthew Stead from 'A fine day for sailing' (a Sydenham/ Deptford-based band) and Jens Lekman has just confirmed as the headliner.

Tickets go on sale this Valentine's Day, but if you think it's worthwhile, a mention on your blog would also be great. :)

Many thanks,

(A Fine Day for Sailing)