Book-lovers will be checking out a unique new venue on Saturday [2 Feb]: St James Street Open-Air Library in Walthamstow. No payment, no tickets – just bring as many books as you like, and swap them. Fab, but Brrrrrr.
Its hours are brief; from 1-3pm the first Saturday of the month. And its book stock is the few hundred its organisers have rounded up from supporters – plus whatever anyone brings. But it’s handily situated just off Walthamstow’s mile-long High Street market. There’s even a bench to browse on, and plenty of cafes if it starts to rain.
It all started when Waltham Forest closed St James Street Library, a popular little centre in a multicultural area with lots of children but not much money. Locals petitioned the council, unsuccessfully, to reopen one of their only community facilities. When the building — in Coppermill Lane E17 — started looking bleak, they decorated its windows. Kids came along to draw pictures, and a book swap started up. That proved so popular that they’re now making it a regular event.
“Come and get a bargain,” say the campaigners in true East London style. They’re hoping to get their library reopened, but meanwhile they’re doing it for themselves, and anyone else who cares to join in.
Waltham Forest council is a tough nut to crack. Campaigners recently discovered that nearly a quarter of a million books had gone missing from the borough’s libraries in the past few years — some of them to Edmonton incinerator. The council first denied this, then admitted the books hadn’t been counted for years so they didn’t really know how many had gone. And its killer defence against the book-burning charge? That books were pulped for recycling, not burnt.
A £10-million makeover programme has left the borough’s surviving libraries with a fraction of the shelf space they had before. That means little to browse, and a 60p fee for each book ordered in. Meanwhile thousands of books are in long-term storage. Campaigners are hoping that the spotlight will at least prevent any more trips to Edmonton.
In fact, there’s a good home on offer to all those long-unseen books, outside St James Street Library, every first Saturday of the month…
Image of St James Street Library fun day in December courtesy of David Hall.