Saturday, 19 September 2015

Down in Lewisham with an old telephone kiosk, Lewisham Micro Library and reflections on all those private lending libraries

Now I like the way you start a story and it takes off in a direction all of its own.

We were talking about those old iconic red telephone kiosks and what would we do with one of those that are up for sale.

The mobile revolution has pretty much done for them which is a shame because if you are of a certain age they were as much a part of the street furniture as the pillar box or Belisha Beacon.

There was that brief spat of competition between Mercury and BT in the 1980s which seemed to lead to shedloads of telephone boxes appearing all over the place but now it is increasingly difficult to find one at all.

So I was fascinated by this one sent up to me by Adam who came across it in Lewisham along with the advert that announced that this was The Lewisham Micro Library, a free service for everyone and predicated on that simple and appealing idea that “when you take a book to read replace it with an unwanted book of your own” the service is open 24 hours a day and is a neat idea.

Of course it will never take the place of public libraries but as they are increasingly under threat from budget cuts it reaffirms that important idea that not every service has to be profit making.

And follows in that strong tradition ranging from the free libraries set up by wealthy benefactors in the 19th century, to those offered up by Mr Carnegie in the 20th as well as the Worker’s Institutes all of which sat beside or were part of the drive by local councils to provide a place of learning and enlightenment in every district.

True there were also those private lending libraries which were situated in bookshops and newsagents which for a small charge offered up a host of books.

I can still remember the one opposite New Cross Library and have come across plenty more.

Despite the smallness of many of the shops this was a big business with the Allied Library here in Manchester hiring out 362, 000 books through 1,489 bookshop at its peak in March 1962.

Now I have never quite understood why business disappeared and really disappeared in less than a decade but I suppose the cheap paperback had something to do with it.

So perhaps there is something of an irony in that it will mainly be paperbacks which stock the old telephone kiosk of Lewisham Micro Library, and there is nothing wrong in that.

Pictures; Lewisham Micro Library, Lewisham, 2015, from the collection of Adam Burgess

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