Libraries are important places. I’ve talked about this before, as writer in residence at Hastings Library. Libraries provide free-to-enter public spaces and important resources for people from all walks of life, starting with the most disadvantaged.
Inspired by my time in Hastings, I’ve been volunteering a few hours a week at my local community library in London. A community library is supported to an extent by the council, but run independently. Most of the ‘staff’ are volunteers.
As a volunteer you can get involved in keeping the library running, whether that’s serving users or shelving books. Doing this, I’ve witnessed to how the library is utilised, and I’ve got to know my local community better. There are lots of people who come just to use the computers, to print or scan, or for a quiet place to work. We have a second-hand bookshop, electrical recycling, a café, activities for children and, of course, a lot of books available to borrow.
What I’m aware of, as a volunteer with limited time to give, is the untapped potential of the place. It’s set in an amazing historical building (it’s a Carnegie library), but it’s a little rundown. It’s in a trendy area, the kind with kid-filled coffee shops and popular delis, but the library’s own coffee shop feels like something you’d get in a community hall. With a bit of funding and work it could be as bustling and desirable as the trendy café across the road.
There’s a competition between the users of the library: some need computers to use because they don’t have their own at home. Others look for plug sockets and WiFi to use their laptops. A lot of space is still given over to DVDs, and leaflet racks compete for floor space with bookshelves. Posters for yoga groups compete with council fliers about public toilet provision. In that sense the library is a battlefield of competing priorities, between old and new, private and the public.
Please think about using your library, supporting it with a donation, giving some of your time, or contributing your ideas. Your skills might help an important community resource to thrive.