What is a library? A room of books? Old school paper books as well? Ssh! Think again. Whilst councils are having their budgets squeezed and libraries are feeling the brunt of the cuts, we could be losing a lot more than an old Billy bookcase and a crumpled copy of Fifty Shades.
The protestors at Carnegie Library know this. They have been staging a very polite sit in to keep it open so it doesn’t get turned into a private gym with a couple of shelves of books. They know you can’t run a storytelling session in amongst the treadmills, or apply for your bus pass, or meet for Scrabble club, or hold a spoken word night or creative writing workshop in a room full of exercising, fraught gym bunnies. How can you say you’re improving wellbeing when the entire wellbeing of society is at stake? Ssh! Sit down Rachel, there are people trying to read. On their stationary bike. In front of a telly.
What’s it to me anyway? Well, since 2013 I’ve mainly focussed my work on doing poetry and spoken work in libraries. Last year I was artist in residence for the excellent SPINE Festival for children and young people in Hounslow Library, engaging over a hundred children in creative writing trails, poetry clubs, drama clubs and the kind of wonderful enthusiasm for the arts and reading that smacked of an earlier less cynical time.
Because children haven’t changed, we’ve just changed the world around them and they love libraries. I also started up a spoken word event, Words Aloud, which has gone from strength to strength, helped by the library services who are now being stripped back to a skeleton staff. But I still live in hope that by making it a place to go for other things as well as books, the library can become a place of sharing, a real gem in the centre of our communities because I’m stupidly naive like that. Luckily I’m not the only one and I raise a cup of tea with one sugar in toast to the radical protestors sitting it out on a closed library floor in Herne Hill Carnegie Library.
Outside of school and pre-school, libraries provide a safe place for parents to educate and entertain their children. They often hold workshops and in 2015 I was placed in Hounslow Central Library with Apples and Snakes as an artist in residence. I had over 100 visitors to my creative writing trail, a dedicated core of about 10 kids who came to workshops and clubs I ran. And the overwhelming message was, we want to do this; when is the next one?
Why can’t we make library spaces a place for free education, community cohesion, arts and more? It’s a gift and we really shouldn’t be throwing it away or regifting it to paying gym bunnies who really aren’t that interested in me spouting poetry at them or the disenfranchised using the internet, whilst they yoga the hell out the old fiction section Brontes – Dan Brown.
So Save our Libraries! If you’re in the area head to Carnegie Library and pass them a hemp bar through the railings, if softly spoken, well-meaning librarians are forced to chain themselves to railings, what the hell is the world coming to? Shh! Sorry.
I can’t make it as I’m running a spoken word night in Sutton Central Library at the same time, but by goodness I’ll be spouting some well-meaning poetry about it. Let’s keep our libraries alive. Join the dots, think bigger and longer term – when you take out the only free democratically inclusive place space for people to educate, inform and advise what are you left with?
Rachel Sambrooks runs Words Aloud spoken word events from Sutton Central Library every third Saturday at 2pm. And it’s free.