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LoveReading Library of the Month #1: West Greenwich Library

Deborah Maclaren

By Deborah Maclaren on 24th August 2018

My local library was beloved to me as a kid. As a free resource we would regularly visit, I would choose my books and with pride hand over my own card and take my precious cargo home.

My life-long love of reading was born right there.

Things have come a long way in the last few decades although I’m not telling how many! Libraries now cater for, respond to and reflect local needs and are the heart of the community. They bring people together, deliver community cohesion and provide a much-needed safe space for reading and creativity.

We want to celebrate our precious libraries and cheer them on in their mission to support local communities, provide cultural activities and engender that love of reading that we hold so dear here at LoveReading.  Each month we’ll choose a library from around the country and share their story, promote their services and celebrate their successes.

Support your local library – it’s free! Be inspired, be creative, attend events, learn new skills, surround yourself with some great literary masterpieces, and find your next favourite book.

Deborah Maclaren

Managing Director, LoveReading

Our first Library of the Month is in West Greenwich, London.

West Greenwich Library opened in 1907 gifted by Andrew Carnegie. West Greenwich was not the only beneficiary of Carnegie’s philanthropy: he founded 2,811 libraries in English-speaking countries, particularly Britain and the United States. He would give generous sums of money to build the libraries, on condition that the local authority provided a site and met running costs. The local population was also usually expected to provide the books.

The library is situated on the edge of Maritime Royal Greenwich, which is a World Heritage Site, close to Greenwich Railway Station and the tourist attractions such as The Cutty Sark, Greenwich Park and The Maritime Museum. 

Threatened with closure in 1991, Greenwich Council was defeated by a strong campaign fought by local residents, including the forming of a “Friends of West Greenwich Library” group. The FWGL are still active today and very much involved in the goings on of the library.

It is a hidden gem and despite being a small library it flourishes under the direction of a wonderful team headed up by Library Manager Debra Sullivan.

With something for everyone, the library is a special place that has everything from Rhyme Time and Crafts for pre-schoolers, Read 2 Dogs in conjunction with local primary schools, several Reading Groups, a Creative Writing Group, a Film Club, Poetry Evenings and Gallery Space. Oh and they have a lot of books! You name it, they will do their best to accommodate it. The local community is very much into creative arts and the library is very much part of that.

Describe your library in three words.

  1. Friendly
  2. Historic
  3. Inclusive

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

A lady visiting Greenwich from the North of England came in and asked if we could put a name to this book she remembered reading as a child in the 1950’s. The only clues were that it was uplifting, that it was about a boy looking out from a tree and spending the day just looking out to a space.  

We took her email address and sent out an email to everyone in the libraries. We had lots of suggestions, including The Memory Tree (NO) and the closest we think we got was My Side of the Mountain by Jean George (courtesy of an internet search by a Library Assistant at Woolwich). Hopefully it was the right book. ☺

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

Harry Potter. Is there anyone who wouldn’t want to be Harry for a day? 

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

It’s not just about the books. There is so much scope with an audience just waiting to be invited in.

What are your top three must-reads?

  • Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. This was recommended by a borrower and I loved every page.
  • A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. I was transported back to the French Revolution. I loved the detail telling the individual stories of Desmoulins, Robespierre and Danton. 
  • Stoner by John Williams. This was recommended to me by one of our book groups. I’m not sure why as it wasn’t upbeat at all but I couldn’t put it down. I loved his writing style and the character Stoner.

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

The Secret of Spiggy Holes by Enid Blyton. I read all of these as a kid, I used to spend my 2/6d (12p) pocket money on them every week. I remember just being transported away with the gang. I also loved the Famous Five but Spiggy Holes is one that I read and re-read.

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

  • Free use of PCs, scanner, wi-fi access
  • DVD rental (including all the new releases and foreign languages)
  • Newspapers / Magazines
  • Ebooks - 
  • Greenwich One Card – Library card – also gets discounts in certain places in Greenwich – 
  • Rhyme Time for children (Tues, Thurs & Fridays)
  • Messy Morning craft activities for pre-school (weekly)
  • Chatterbooks reading group for children 6+ (monthly)
  • Basic IT classes for adults – Learnmyway (weekly)
  • Monday Mindfulness Colouring sessions for adults – quiet time to colour, knit, read etc. Held when library is closed to the public.
  • FWGL Reading Group - meets monthly, open to all library members
  • African-Caribbean Reading Group - meets monthly, open to all library members
  • Creative Writing Group - meets monthly, open to all library members (evening event)
  • Film Club – meets monthly, from October – March – includes a discussion about the film. (evening event)
  • Monthly poetry evenings in liaison with . 
  • Other poetry evenings and author talks 
  • Gallery Space art wall. This was set up in 2013 as a free space for artists to exhibit their work. It is really popular and now booked up until 2020. Artists have opportunity to run a free 5 week exhibition and a have a Private Evening Show.
  • Specials – Harry Potter Night in Feb (library transformed into Hogwarts etc.) , Tongue Tried performance evening for our CWG, liaised with BBC Civilisations (poetry evening Of Words)
  • Read2Dogs -  in conjunction with local primary school.
  • Craft events for children during school holidays / SRC

Why are libraries such a vital link in our communities?

We have helpful staff to answer queries and provide information. Libraries are one of the few remaining places open to everyone at no cost. You do not have to be a member to use us – just come and sit inside and read (a newspaper, a book or a magazine). It’s a shared public space and users respect other users. They are relatively democratic spaces; we cater for all different age groups, ethnicities, backgrounds, we all share the same space and are treated equally. 

In times of austerity, these types of places are particularly important. If you cannot afford to buy a book, own a computer, pay for wi-fi, or simply don't have any space to sit and read or study, then you can come to the library. 

If you are an elderly person perhaps living alone, visiting and using the library can become part of your routine, as can getting to know library staff and other customers.

You can join reading groups or bring your kids to children's activities, and this can be a way of forming networks and friendships. Or if you need a quiet place to sit and read, study or work, then the library (when baby Rhyme Time isn't taking place!) is there.

If you enjoyed this, why not read our other Library of the month features?

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