The sacking of a library in the middle of the night

The what? Yes – and by a Labour council at that. The Kensal Rise branch library, at 2 a.m., with an army of cops.

Kensal Rise library was emptied of its books and stripped of the plaque commemorating its opening 112 years ago by Mark Twain in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Residents who for more than a year campaigned to keep the library open were alerted in the middle of the night that Brent council workers, backed up by police, were stripping the branch of books, furniture, murals painted in the 1930s and the plaque marking the opening in 1900 by Twain. The move follows the council’s failed attempt to clear the library earlier this month, when they were stopped from removing books by protesters.

Members of the writers’ community are not amused.

Local people, backed by literary names, including Philip Pullman and Alan Bennett, have challenged the decision to close six libraries in the north-west London borough at the high court and supreme court, but were told in February no further appeal would be heard. They are now hoping to run the Kensal Rise branch themselves as a volunteer facility, and pledged this morning that the removal of books from the library would not stop them.

“The cowardice of Brent’s Labour council in stripping Kensal Rise library, and the philistinism of unscrewing the brass plaque remembering Mark Twain from its wall, in the middle of the night, would horrify anyone who still recalls Labour’s founding mission to share education, knowledge and hope with the people. We will continue to fight for our library,” said the author Maggie Gee, vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature.

The playwright Michael Frayn also condemned the move. “They took the books out and the plaque down? So the library is now an unlibrary, in the way that people became unpersons in the darkest days of the Soviet Union. I hope they took the titles of the books off as well. Removing unbooks from an unlibrary – who could possibly object?”

The biographer Sir Michael Holroyd said: “The wanton destruction of the Kensal Rise Library – its books removed, its history erased – is a gross act of philistinism which will bring lasting shame to all involved.”

I don’t know the background, but…I don’t like to see libraries closed.

Kensal Rise Library - opened by Mark Twain


Photos via Save Kensal Rise Library



  1. Shatterface says

    Shades of Alexandria. Or is it Fahrenheit 451?

    I’m going to shy away from an obvious breach of Godwin’s Law…

    This is a council formerly dubbed the People’s Republic of Brent and it illustrates how far to the right our politics has shifted.

  2. redgreeninblue says

    fredbloggs, you’re such a cynic. Who ever heard of such a thing? And backhanders to the council – sorry, “Section 106 payments” – won’t be involved in the granting of planning permission at all. No, sir.

    As to the stripping of the books and fixtures itself, this is rather like the indecent haste to rip up tracks on railway lines closed as a result of the Beeching Axe, despite numerous local support groups campaigning to keep them open, or even to take them over and run them.

  3. Siverly says

    No surprise at this sort of action there.
    Our public libraries, certainly in the UK and the US, have made an incalcuable contribution to the intellectual health and betterment of countless people for more than a hundred years. They have been crucial to early years reading and literacy development, especially for the poorest in our societies. And in recent years: free computer access too.
    To close public libraries is a form of cultural vandalism and shows a contempt for the possibility of a literate, well-informed future Public. All the major parties are guilty of abandoning support for these important services, including(most shamefully) the ‘Labour’ party. So much for social mobility.
    If you want to maintain your local branch- fight for it!

  4. Godless Heathen says

    @Siverly – It’s unlikely that a political party in the US would go so far as to clean out a library overnight. In fact, there have been several library systems that have been saved from reduced hours because citizens pushed back (this happened in DC, Pittsburgh, and, I believe, Chicago).

    I’m not saying cutbacks and closings don’t happen in the US (they do) or that they don’t disproportionately affect lower-income communities (they generally do), but things like this haven’t happened here.

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