Megan Roberts, whose Ode to Carnegie Library moved so many people, reports from the library sit-in
Don’t miss her pictures at the end of the post
I’ve just spent the night in a library. Not something I ever thought I’d do. Not something I ever thought I’d HAVE to do. 40 or more people remain inside, including babies, teens and elderly folk.
Yesterday saw the long-feared farewell to the Carnegie Library, Conni sitting quietly in the corner to mull the end of her favourite spot, others getting children writing their messages and memories onto banners. Feets and I attended but, at two, she has no idea that it was for the last time. It seems tragic that she’ll probably not even remember the place where she spent so much of her toddler years. I wonder where she will locate her community centre as she grows up? Not in a gym, I suspect!
Mysteriously, as closing time came and went, nobody seemed to leave. We declared our intention to sit in and keep the library open. I think we hoped that 40 people might stay … I, for one, certainly never anticipated that over 100 people would be there late into the evening.
Meanwhile, a candlelit vigil began on the steps, led by the Friends of the Carnegie Library and supported by our beloved librarians, braver than we were as they faced the freezing cold. Inside, we shared our library stories, I following Feets round and around the children’s library as numerous other families stayed reading and another couple sat in a corner doing crosswords. Later, a guitar came out, supported by the stunning voices of our young folk. And Feets went home to sleep.
It really brought home to me that this is a community sit in. We are not professional campaigners, we’re just local people who own our local library and want to see it used for the purpose it was built for. Friends and users of the different libraries closed across Lambeth; residents who assumed it would always be there; people who have championed the defendtheten campaign throughout. Somehow, being there with pensioners, teenagers and baby twins really highlights how severely the library closures cut across the community.
Perhaps you heard us on Radio London Live yesterday evening. Outside, Laura Swaffield spoke while, inside, we all stood round and listened on an iPod, before the interview moved in to us, to Rachel and her daughter. It was a proud and uniting moment, to hear a 14-year-old stating our case so calmly and passionately!
As the music continued into the night, i realised that with a two=year=old to look after this morning, I really had to try to sleep. So I curled up in the children’s library with a number of others, photographed by newspapers, chatted for hours with my neighbour and tried to sleep … cleaning our teeth in the toilets reminded me of hostelling days gone by!
Of course, it was hours before I slept. I’m not as bendy as I used to be and every sound disturbed me, as the guitar quietly continued in the background, accompanied by the squeak of beds being inflated. Again, it reminded me of hostel days from back then …
I must have slept because when I woke up my neighbour had gone.
Huddled in a sleeping bag, I prepared for the onslaught of returning toddlers, mine and others, and then for my first ever TV interview … a slightly less proud moment but I managed to sneak my earrings on for a semblance of normality!
People have been so supportive, I found myself brought coffees by Claire as she returned for stage two, and Liam as he dropped Feets off. And so we set up the garden for Wriggle and Rhyme time, our regular Friday ;ibrary group. Thank heavens the weather is on our side, if not the council.
Fifteen children and their parents joined us as we went through all our old library favourites – there’s one song that goes – “Pick banana, pick-pick banana”, that Feets has just now cracked. One small memory of our library to take away and keep.
It was so relaxed, so warm and friendly, we could feel the support seeping through the doors from across our neighbourhood, across Lambeth and even the wider country. But gradually, cooler moments seeped in. Police have been coming and going since yesterday evening, just to check we weren’t rioting (as if we’d destroy our library!). But then a facilities lady from the council, crept in, and then there were some more police and security, doing what they could to intimidate their way in, prevent us from coming and going.
As I write, the council, are working on next steps to remove us but “ until they can, we are there!
We are so grateful for your support on the inside and the outside – we heard and loved every beep of car horns, and valued every croissant, flapjack, satsuma and loaf of bread.
Thanks so much, and please come by! Even if you can’t enter, your support on the outside is invaluable. Come up the front steps and talk to us through the gate, write a message on the banner outside, Tweet for us … let’s save these libraries!
Megan Roberts, 1 April 2016