Tuesday, August 05, 2014

London libraries #1: Peckham

"It is an absolute public disgrace that for the last 30 years the main bulwark and protection for children and their reading in our culture, namely the public and school library services, and particularly the spending on books, has been cut, cut and cut again until our libraries are now a brave but struggling shadow of their former selves."
– David Fickling, Publisher & Editor 

In theory, libraries are great. They've got loads of books in them and homeless people too. Now they've also got CDs, DVDs and computers. My mum worked in a library for years. A recent survey concluded that librarian is the most stressful job in the world. She used to hire me out CDs for nothing but the new system meant she (that is, I) had to pay. That's progress. Libraries aren't even about books anymore. They're about targets, profits and Polish au pair girls waiting to use the internet. Recently librarians had to complete a course – about how to judge a book by its cover (this is true).

For me, walking into a library used to feel like walking into a church. I got a feeling of serenity and sometimes awe. I liked the silence and that vast bank of information (books!) and all the people lost in their own thoughts and other peoples thoughts and words. Libraries are as old as civilisation itself.

Peckham Library was designed by Alsop & Störmer in 2000 and won the Sterling Prize for Architecture for that year. In an age when they're closing down across the country, and physical books an anachronism, the success of libraries like the Peckham one and the recently refurbished Henry Tate building in Streatham show how current, rewarding and positive libraries can be.

A recent pointless poll by American Express of the UK's top fifty 'urban gems' placed Peckham's library on the list.

Previously on Barnflakes:
London through its charity shops

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