The Kensal Rise Library may be in danger of closing, but its getting support from a big literary name who calls the north London neighborhood her home.
Author, Zadie Smith has joined the campaign to save Kensal Rise from closing in the face of government cuts. Brent, the library’s borough in northwest London is in a fiscal bind, with its deficit digging a $59.4 million financial hole. Its governing council has said the only way to close the gap is to shut down nearly half of its libraries, an argument that Smith has little patience for.
Speaking at a recent meeting of supporters of the Kensal Rise Library, Smith noted that libraries were “gateways to better, improved lives.” The author said that the government attempts to shut down the libraries are hypocritical, given many of the council’s members attended prestigious school with an emphasis on literature. Channeling the wit often seen in her work, Smith noted:
“But then, it’s always difficult to explain to people with money what it’s like to have very little… Perhaps this is why they are so cavalier with our heritage. The fewer places there are to find a history book these days, the better.”
Smith, the critically acclaimed writer of “White Teeth”, “The Autograph Man,” and “On Beauty” has good reason to defend keeping Kendal Rise open. In a recent talk on BBC Radio, she said libraries were where her love for her craft first came alive. This particular library has a special literary heritage, tracing its roots to Mark Twain, who helped fund its opening in 1900.
The effort’s of Smith to save her local library resonate with book lovers even here across the pond, as libraries in many American cities are too facing the very real possibility of closing their doors. In a recent Newsweek article, Roberta Stevens, President of the American Library Association said the situation was grave:
“Even back in the late 1970s inflationary times, I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re really talking about being not just a successful democracy but also in terms of global competitiveness.”
In New York, the public library system avoided a proposed $82 million dollars in cuts due to public protests. However, other cities have not been as fortunate. In Charlotte, North Carolina- libraries let go of 300 staff members as their funding was slashed by 30 percent.
With the budget debates ongoing in Washington and across the country, libraries are often an easy target for politicians who are thinking more about the chopping block of the next two years. Zadie Smith’s involvement in efforts to save her local library, should make many of us think about our own. Because if we don’t fight to keep them, we could very well see our libraries close their doors for good.