Zadie Smith is the poster girl for North West London. She might spend half her year teaching Creative Writing in New York, but really she’s just a girl from Kilburn. If you work hard, you can succeed… or so the cliché goes.
‘Kilburn?’ I hear you say, your voice infected with a questioning tone. Yeah, Kilburn. A North West London area between Cricklewood, Willesden and… Maida Vale. Yup, London is a place of thin borders between rich and poor. In fact, Kilburn has reached dizzying levels of fame of late, as Tour de France and Olympic cycling champ Bradley Wiggins spent his childhood in NW6 too.
Today we are going to talk about libraries. Libraries in North West London are a dying breed. Which is a shame, as libraries have the potential to be the community hub in a town, the beating heart of knowledge if you like. I’m not even going to go all traditionalist on you here. I think libraries needed to adapt and am glad that computers became a feature in most, allowing all free access to information, even if that information didn’t come from a printed book.
You get the young and old in libraries. I arrived too early at a surviving NW London library the other day and got chatting to an old retired lady and an unemployed school leaver while we waited for it to open. We all had different reasons for being there, but all 3 of us had no alternative than to visit the library to achieve what we needed to do.
But back to Smith, who now splits her time between New York and fashionable Queen’s Park, and who wrote an article for the New York Review of Books earlier this year about the sad fate of North West London’s libraries. I’m going to leave you now with an extract from a Zadie Smith article. If you have time, read the whole piece. It made me a little teary.
I don’t think the argument in favor of libraries is especially ideological or ethical. I would even agree with those who say it’s not especially logical. I think for most people it’s emotional. Not logos or ethos but pathos. This is not a denigration: emotion also has a place in public policy. We’re humans, not robots.
The people protesting the closing of Kensal Rise Library love that library. They were open to any solution on the left or on the right if it meant keeping their library open. They were ready to Big Society the hell out of that place. A library is one of those social goods that matter to people of many different political attitudes. All that the friends of Kensal Rise and Willesden Library and similar services throughout the country are saying is: these places are important to us.
We get that money is tight, we understand that there is a hierarchy of needs, and that the French Market or a Mark Twain plaque are not hospital beds and classroom size. But they are still a significant part of our social reality, the only thing left on the high street that doesn’t want either your soul or your wallet.
Wherever you are in the world, please comment and share what a library means to you.