Socialist Worker

Save our libraries: from read-ins to occupation

Issue No. 2238

The read-in at Sydenham library in south LondonPicture: Valerios Theofanidis

The read-in at Sydenham library in south LondonPicture: Valerios Theofanidis

Thousands of people rallied round their libraries on Saturday as a national day of “read-ins” swept Britain.

Events in more than 100 libraries saw readers, authors and librarians come together to defend the service.

Some 450 libraries are threatened with closure as the cuts hit.

After one read-in, at threatened New Cross library in south east London, up to 50 campaigners decided to occupy the building overnight.

They stayed from 3pm on Saturday until midday on Sunday—but didn’t do much sleeping.

Protester James Holland, who takes his three-year old daughter to\\ the library, said, “We need to save all public services and we don’t need to cut any of them.

“I don’t understand why people aren’t looking at the genuine alternatives to fund public services and to getting the money from the people who can afford to pay it—that’s exactly the answer.”

Lewisham council recently estimated the cost of keeping New Cross library open would be just £100,000 a year—far less than the salary of the council’s senior executives.

Asked on the news how they were filling their time in a library all night, James answered that they were “doing plenty of reading”—though he did also admit to a few games of Connect 4.

The occupiers wrote down reasons why they love libraries. “I’m writing this surrounded by more books than I could ever afford,” wrote one, “in an environment that is good for all ages, staffed by people who can help me.

“Why would anyone want to get rid of this?”

As word spread, supporters brought food for the occupiers. They ate it carefully, making sure not to get any near the books.


Campaign for the Book organiser Alan Gibbons, who initiated the read-ins idea, was delighted with the day. He said, “I was hoping for a dozen events in the areas facing the worst cuts. The call rapidly became a grassroots movement with a life of its own.

“Between five and ten thousand people, maybe more, turned out, with several hundred involved in read-ins at even tiny village libraries.”

Local activist Leila Galloway visited the New Cross occupation. She told Socialist Worker, “There was a really good atmosphere. Everyone was chatting and reading.

“People say there’s all this technology now so we don’t need libraries. But this is an area with lots of poverty.

“Lots of people don’t have computers—so they go to the library to use them. Some even go there to keep warm.

“And there’s something lovely about going into a library. You can discover things in a way you can’t on the internet.

“I’m sure there will be more library occupations. I hope there are.”

with thanks to Estelle Cooch

Outside the New Cross library occupation on Sunday  (Pic: Smallman )

Outside the New Cross library occupation on Sunday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

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Tue 8 Feb 2011, 17:25 GMT
Issue No. 2238
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