CA Stories

Striking at the heart of communities – UK public libraries in crisis

Nicky Crabb, Senior Associate at Apples and Snakes, has received an ECF R&D grant following the Idea Camp 2014,  towards their Library Takeover programme; a bespoke training programme for library staff and young people in two different London boroughs. In this piece, Nicky tells us more about the important community role of libraries
photo by Apples and Snakes

For many children and young people today their local libraries provide a safe space to read, to discover, to engage in creative activities, to meet friends and to learn.  According to the National Literacy Trust, children who go to libraries are twice as likely to be confident readers as those who don’t.  When we asked some young people what a library is for, their answers reflected the importance of libraries in our increasingly fragmented communities:

– “a social hub where it is not only about books and reading but a place where people meet.”
– “a learning resource centre.”
– “a place to expand your creativity and develop and learn new skills.”

photo by Suzi Corker Photography
photo by Suzi Corker Photography

Despite this valuable community role, over 500 libraries across the UK from Cornwall to Bradford are facing closure, with many more suffering severe budget cuts affecting opening hours and staffing.  Our libraries are being replaced by gyms (as with the recent closure of the Carnegie Library in Lambeth), by new houses, or being handed over to volunteers and community organisations with no trained library staff on site.

Apples and Snakes works closely with libraries in 14 different London boroughs and each meeting begins with news of yet another budget cut, closure, or proposed privatisation of these valuable services. Many of the poets and writers we work with  have told us how their careers was inspired by visits to their local libraries, how their creativity was nurtured by the books they could freely borrow as their parents couldn’t afford books at home; or by the quiet space away from other distractions to read and write.

Our library programme is called SPINE because we truly believe that libraries are the backbone of their local communities, and we are saddened that councils are being forced to pursue short term financial gains without considering the long term effects of their choices.

I am a Senior Associate at Apples and Snakes, where I manage creative participation programmes with a special interest in disenfranchised voices. My current focus is on encouraging young people to use libraries, not just as places to study, but as cultural spaces for creative activity. I have worked for a wide range of cultural organisations from the British Film Institute (Bfi ) to Ardent Hare and I am passionate about the arts, especially theatre, film and spoken word. I have worked widely within arts education and the disability arts sectors and I am also a qualified yoga teacher.