diamond geezer

 Sunday, February 10, 2013

I don't know what you did for National Libraries Day yesterday, but I went to two very different London libraries...

Horniman Library
The Horniman, in Forest Hill, is probably South London's finest museum. Born out of the collections of Victorian philanthropist Frederick John Horniman, it boasts an eclectic collection of anthropological artefacts. The place is packed out on Saturdays, mostly by families with small children, exploring the galleries, the hands-on activities and the cafe. "Look Noah, see the walrus." "That's a funny clarinet, isn't it Esme?" "Ooh, scary masks." But there's one part of the building visitors don't normally gain entrance to. That's the futuristic building to the right of the main entrance, the one with the sloping grass roof and six strange chimneys. That's the library, that is. Normally it opens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays by appointment only, but for National Libraries Day it flung its doors wide for a few hours. It's not a big library, or at least the public facing section isn't. A few blocks of shelves and a reading desk, that's all, and a selection of relatively modern arty travelly books. The main body of the collection lies beyond a glass partition, accessible only to staff, because this is a research library. If you fancy finding out about African puppetry or making notes on Icelandic art, this is the place.

Mr Horniman was an avid collector of books, so the collection contains a larger number of older volumes than you might expect. Helen the librarian placed four of these on display yesterday, as a taster of what the archive might contain. One of these was Flora Londinensis, an 18th century partwork published over several years depicting all the wild flowers to be found within a ten-mile radius of London. Foxgloves, scarlet pimpernels, that sort of thing. Each plant was drawn approximately lifesize, where appropriate, and hand-coloured if you paid extra. A lovely book, as was the equally ancient tome of illustrated caterpillars laid out alongside. They've survived well, these two, although most newer (Victorian) books suffer from chemically active binding and require more urgent conservation. That'd be why we weren't allowed to turn the pages of "Travels in Africa", a book which inspired Frederick to tour the continent but whose contents turned out to be fictional. But we could get our hands on a delightful book of Japanese fairy tales, with stories about badgers and hares and berries, whose pages were made from cloth and hence much lighter than a modern paperback. A very friendly little library, should you ever have cause to visit.

Libraries in Lewisham: Two years ago Lewisham funded 12 libraries, but funding cuts have reduced that number to seven. The unlucky five libraries were transferred out of council management in May 2011 and are are now run by community groups. Grove Park, Sydenham and Crofton Park are being run by a computer recycling firm, Blackheath Village library has transferred to nearby charity Age Exchange, and New Cross is being wholly run by volunteers as New Cross People's Library.

Kensal Rise Library
This is a sorry story. Kensal Rise Library was opened by Mark Twain in 1900, and is a fine looking redbrick building on a corner plot. The interior was restored in a Neo-Edwardian style in 1994, and the place was well used when I visited a couple of years ago. But council cuts put the library on Brent's closure list, which even a lengthy court case couldn't stop. The battle was lost when council workers sneaked inside in the early hours, emptied the shelves and removed Twain's commemorative plaque. When Brent pulled out the lease reverted to All Souls College Oxford, who'd gifted the reading room in the first place, and a protracted battle between council, users and the landowner ensued. All Souls offered to lease some of the space within for a smaller library, but local residents said it wasn't enough. Brent council then placed the library on its list of community assets, only for the college to claim they'd already sold it on to a developer. They're called Platinum Revolver, and they have their eye on transforming the building into six flats. Contracts were exchanged only last week, apparently, so don't expect this sorry saga to be over just yet.

And yet the library is still, sort of, open. Local campaigners aren't the sort to give up easily, not in the face of offensive officialdom, so they've set up a pop-up library on the pavement outside. It's more a shed really, draped in plastic in case it rains, which yesterday it definitely was. A series of book crates have been turned on their side to create makeshift shelves, five high, with a few extra novels crammed on top of the lowest layer for good measure. Each box is labelled by first letter of author's surname, with A-L at the front and M-Z round the back. If it's non fiction or children's books you want, try the lean-to round the corner in College Road. A volunteer will be able to show you around and check out your borrowings, according to the wipe-clean rota pinned up on the exterior. It's all very homely, there are even pot plants, and a chair for the volunteer to sit on and read if nobody turns up. Nobody turned up while I was there, but like I said it was raining, and this isn't the sort of library you visit for lengthy literary activities any more. [close-up photo]

The people of Kensal Rise are angry about this, as reflected by the number of "Let us run our libraries" posters pinned up in local house and shop windows. It is a hugely impressive commitment to take on a public service like this in the face of council indifference. You could see it as a striking vindication of David Cameron's Big Society philosophy, as citizens step in to provide services in an age of austerity. Or you could see it as the inevitable outcome of top-down enforced budget cuts, decimating cultural necessities and demeaning society. Whatever, we now live in a London where residents loan books from a shack on the pavement because nobody'll let them inside the library building behind. Raise a cheer, and weep.

Libraries in Brent: Two years ago Brent funded 12 libraries, but funding cuts have reduced that number to six. Neasden has closed without trace. Tokyngton's building is due to be sold off shortly. Barham, Preston, Cricklewood and Kensal Rise have all closed, but now have small community pop-up libraries. Barham Library may become a Free School. Meanwhile Willesden Green Library Centre, Brent's largest library, is due to be knocked down later this year and replaced by a smaller library, plus flats.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
tired of london
in the aquarium
round the island
christopher fowler
thamesfacingeast
one bus at a time
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
uk general election 2015

read the archive
Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv