As you have probably heard, our local library is in great danger of closing. For over a century, it has fed our community with books and knowledge for all ages, cultures and backgrounds. With a diverse variety of titles, films and internet access it is a great service to the local people. However, with the government enforcing cuts, the library is at risk and this has led to protests and disruption within our community.
Kensal Rise Library was founded when All Souls College, Oxford, donated a site for a reading room at the corner of College Road and Bathurst Gardens, originally to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1896, but not opened until 1900 – by Samuel Langhorne Clemens (better known by his pen name, Mark Twain).
Twain was an American author and humorist in the 1870s and had a love for books. At his peak, he was the most famous American celebrity of his time.
He created many novels in his life; the most successful being The Adventures of Tom Sawyer written in 1876; and the sequel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885. Although these were his most famous books, he wrote many short stories including The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut, Eve’s Diary and My First Lie, And How I Got Out Of It.
In 1894 Mark Twain wrote, “A public library is the most enduring of memorials; the trustiest monument of an event or a name or an affection; for it, and it only, is respected by wars and revolutions, and survives them.”
In 1891, Twain fled from America to escape paying his debts; stayed in Dollis Hill House for the summer. As he was an eminent author of the day he was invited to open the Library. At the opening he was awarded an inscribed silver key for his achievements and in exchange gave the Chairman of the Library Committee five of his own books and a signed photograph. A month later he returned to America, leaving behind a great source of learning which attracted some 80 people a day in its first week, rising to 150 in six months.
“A public library is the most enduring of memorials; the trustiest monument of an event or a name or an affection; for it, and it only, is respected by wars and revolutions, and survives them.” Mark Twain (1894 )
The real beginning of libraries started about 8,000 years ago when the Mesopotamians used to write on wet clay tablets; these are now what we call books. Thousands of books were put in palaces to be stored – what we call in modern times, a library. Much later, in the Victorian era more people started attending schools, more people became literate but few could afford to buy their own books. Libraries became essential to the education of the masses. Libraries were started so that people could read and borrow books without having to pay, which allowed the public to explore the English language, to learn about the world, politics, art, history and to escape into great stories. In 1850 the English Parliament gave permission for libraries to be organised and established.
The author of White Teeth, Zadie Smith, has contributed to a campaign to save our historic Library. A working class girl born in North West London, she has written three novels and is desperate to save something she feels very passionate about! Earlier this month she made a spectacular speech at a local meeting place to show the public the importance of having a library. Smith says, “Local libraries are gateways not only into other libraries, but into other lives…It’s always difficult to explain to people with money what it’s like to have very little.”
A 90 year old participator at Zadie’s event added, “It was more than a library – elderly people used it like a home”.
Throughout the generations, it has brought everyone closer in our growing community; to have lasted this long it is undoubtedly an important library, and to abandon this integral part of the community would be a bitter loss.
However, there are varied opinions on the matter, some people do want the library shut down; saying we are moving on into the modern future and should let go of an old fashioned service. Will Self, an author and columnist recently added to the argument and thinks that libraries are a ‘dying breed’ due to ever growing technology. His comments caused a minor uproar on the Radio 4 Book Programme.
We think that not only is it a place for studying, reading and researching, but that a library is somewhere for people to socialise and organise family events for children and adults. Although our generation is developing in the era of modern technology, it would be a shame to lose a comforting historic building and our local source of good old books – and new ones too!
By Maddie Riddick
Queens Park Community School