Is this what Manor House Library has to come?

A short history of book burning 

A personal view of the closure of Blackheath library by Gina Raggett The practice of destroying books has a long and ignoble history, dating back to at least 700BC when a scroll dictated by the prophet Jeremiah was ritually set alight. Since then, individual books, entire libraries and even authors have been burned in an effort to suppress the free dissemination of the written word.

The Blackheath reminiscence centre now houses the library

Lewisham council’s determination to deprive as many people as possible of the chance to browse, choose and handle real books is a continuation of that practice. Long before the Tories were in power, Lewisham’s latter-day book-burners were doing their best to close my local library in Blackheath Village. They failed first time around but, using Government cuts as their excuse, finally triumphed in 2011. The Saturday before the library closed for ever, local residents turned out in force to express their anger. A tireless campaigner, Anne Bennet, had the brilliant idea of providing a map of the world and asking visitors to state their nationality. No fewer than 26 different countries of origin were identified, including several in the grip of war. To many of those who visited that day, the library was a place where they could improve their English, get to grips with British culture, help their children with school work and obtain advice from trained staff. No amount of online accessing can compensate for such losses.

The new Blackheath library now run by volunteers

Some weeks later I walked past the now-closed library with my grandchildren. No one had bothered to close the blinds on the sunny, welcoming space that formerly held the children’s section. Shelves had been overturned and the books strewn over the floor. The children stared and pointed. “Lewisham council did that,” I told them. “That’s a bad council,” was the 5-year-old’s shocked response.

The new Blackheath library – a shadow of its former self?

He didn’t know the half of it. Four years on, *book issues at the volunteer-run library at Age Exchange are down, as are shelf stocks. There are no evening openings and therefore no opportunities for quiet study. There is no disabled access to the reference section in the tiny basement corridor that has the nerve to call itself a library. Our local councillors claim this represents “a great success”.   Lewisham may not actually have burned the thousands of volumes they removed from shelves as part of their campaign to reduce shelf stocks and, as a consequence, book issues … or maybe they did. What else would they have done with them? Gina Raggett * The council admits that data collection has been ‘difficult’ so reliable figures are hard to come by.  It adds ‘the Service overall has had a difficult year…the implementation of such major change has had a negative effect on the Service’.  It may be asked why then impose it on Manor House Library?

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