As the Occupy London campaigners are camping against anti-capitalism outside St Paul’s in London, a small group of people—far from the national and international media attention—have been campaigning outside their local libraries in the borough of Brent in London.
More than a century after Mark Twain opened the Kensal Rise Library, its doors have been shut, at least for now. Brent Council has decided to close six of its 12 libraries in the borough citing expensive repairs and low subscriptions.
But while residents have been fighting against the Council’s decision, last week’s the Council’s announcement of closing a seventh library at Willesden Green has come as a surprise to locals.
As I stood outside the locked library at Kensal Rise, locals stopped by some chat at a small camp or a library-like structure set up outside the closed library. Every day locals sit there, taking shifts, trying to get their message across that they want their libraries back.
They’ve collected more than £35,000 for legal fees plus over 30,000 signatures in petition. They’ve made an appeal in the court and they are due to find in two weeks if their days and nights of campaigning has worked.
Margaret Bailey, co-chair of the campaign known as Brent SOS Library Campaign, tells me the court might favour the Council, but they’re not giving up yet.
At Preston Library, now boarded by the Council, I came across some locals who have been using the library since their childhood. Priya Shah, a young campaigner says that the Council’s decision is wrong and it will hugely affect the people in the community.
As I was talking to these people, passionate about saving their community library, I was transported back to my country Nepal.
Growing up as a child in Kathamndu, I have no vivid memories of going to a library. Number one: There were no libraries in the neighbourhood. Number Two: The reading culture sucks, literally.
But before getting to Number Three, I along with some of my friends did something that we’re proud of. We created a small library in one of the vacant rooms of a friend’s house. We saved our pocket money, collected books and kept the library running.
But after a while, as we grew up and could get to the nooks and corners of the crowded capital, we started to visit libraries such as the British Council. Then later, I made quick trips to the national libraries in Kathmandu. But I was never a heavy reader, I must admit.
As I scan over my memory, reflect over the library closure story that I have been following and conversations with campaigners and locals who I’ve come across, I think would we have done this in Nepal?
In Nepal, the constitution drafting process is still pending. There has some sort of activism going on: A group of people gather every week to pressurise the government, but it’s only the same handful of people every time.
It’s the country’s constitution and Nepalis seem so chilled about it. And here we are talking about closure of community libraries and people are fired up, they are outside their neighbourhood camping day and night.
The decision for the Brent locals is not until the next two weeks. They’ve been working hard on the campaign, and more importantly it seems they’ve not lost hope. They are high in spirit.
Here’s a Q&A with Bailey. I asked her if the closure of another library puts more pressure on the campaign.