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LoveReading Library of the Month #14: Lewisham Micro Library

Charlotte Walker

By Charlotte Walker on 25th November 2019

November's Library of the Month may be small but it is perfectly formed! Created from disused BT phone boxes, Lewisham has demonstrated you don't need a lot of space to create a well used and well-loved library!

(Photos used are from the Lewisham Micro Library facebook page, images link to the original post)

Tell us about your library and the area it sits in.

Lewisham microlibrary began operating in December 2013, and the motivation behind it was about doing something practical and interesting and community-minded with disused BT phoneboxes. It was created by Sebastian Handley, who did all the refurbishment work, and the conversion to a microlibrary was possible because Brockley Society, a local community group, took ownership the phone box from BT under BT's Adopt a Kiosk programme. Sebastian has since moved out of the area, so two other ‘microlibrarians’ look after it now. 

We don't keep any record of who uses the microlibrary, or how often, but we often see people using it, and the turnover of books is quite quick, so it is well used. We have had various notes left that say how good an idea people think it is, or that thank people for leaving certain kinds of books. The amount of books varies, but usually the shelves are full, and there are often additional books lined up on the floor. We generally just keep the books tidy, and let the stock self-regulate. It seems to work out fine. There are books of all genres and periods and languages, and we don't censor them. All we might do is put the more adult books on a higher shelf. 

Describe your library in three words. 

Phonebox, Free, Open 24 hours

Apart from plenty of reading material, what other services does your library offer?

We only offer books (and shelter from the rain). 

What is the strangest book-related question your team has been asked?

We don’t get many questions about the books (other than “Are these all free?”) but we were once asked by an interviewer “What is the business model?” for the microlibrary. 

If you were to become a character from a book for the day, who would it be and why?

Robinson Crusoe – for the peace and quiet and beautiful scenery. But only for one day…

What’s been the biggest surprise about working in a library?

That it still works! When I first saw the microlibrary being built I (and many others) thought that it was a great idea and that unfortunately it would be burnt down or used as a toilet or otherwise destroyed within a few months. We have been proved wrong. In the nearly six years that the microlibrary has been going, there has been only one serious attempt at vandalism: someone pulled all the books from the shelves, and set fire to one or two of them – and that happened more than four years ago. There has also been some minor graffiti. In all cases, either the microlibrarians or other members of the public have cleaned things up within a day. Other members of the public also sometimes clean and maintain the microlibrary without any recognition (presumably) simply because they think that it is a good idea, or a useful resource, or they just like the look of it. It is clearly something that the local community and external visitors think is valuable and worthy of respect.

What are your top three must-reads?

Jonathan Lethem: The Fortress of Solitude; Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad; Graham Swift: The Light of Day – but it’s been a while since I read any of them…

What is your favourite book from your childhood, and why did you love it?

Ian Serraillier’s Silver Sword, which was recommended by the children’s librarian at my local library. It opened my world way beyond Enid Blyton and introduced me to children who faced very real disasters but who were resourceful, kind and courageous.

Why are libraries such a vital link in our communities?

Books are a way into other lives.

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