Crofton Park Library
Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard
A lady in her forties, of Afro-Caribbean heritage and looking for romantic fiction, enters the library dressed in shades of mauve and purple. She told me that she had recently returned to the library after a ten year break during which time she had assumed the library had closed down. She first started attending at the age of fourteen during which time she was confined to the children’s library. ‘If I’d have been allowed in the adults section at an earlier age’ she said, ‘maybe I would have discovered romantic fiction earlier’.
Old Romantic

Although the 1960s were a decade of iconoclastic cultural revolutions, in sleepy Brockley, the children were still being seen and not heard, and were definitely not speaking until they were spoken to. Gwen Randall, who is now Branch Librarian at Crofton Park Library, who first visited the library in the sixties, recalls how whenever she wanted to talk to the librarian she had first to wait for the librarian to finish whatever it was that she was doing. This was an age when respect for adults had priority over user centred service provision or assertiveness.

Gwen recalls how she visited Crofton Park Library for the first time at the age of ten, after her family had moved to Brockley. She entered the Children’s Library, which had its own entrance; and was in a separate room from the adult’s library. Gwen remembers requesting ‘Dixon of Dock Green’, a book located in the ‘child free’ adult’s section. The librarian responded in a way that might be thought as condescending today, by administering a reading test to ensure it was worthwhile her getting the book for Gwen. Having passed the test, Gwen watched from the hallway as the book was retrieved. She had to promise to return it on time and in good condition. It was such a privilege to be allowed to borrow an adult book.

In 2008 the children’s library is an adjunct of the main library, a comfortable square, full of books and soft cushions to sit on. Children now wonder the main library as freely as the adults. I meet a young man in a hooded top who’s been in the library for an hour or so. He seems a bit shy but otherwise happy to talk to me. I imagine he doesn’t like the real world too much, and prefers the incredible one created by the books on the supernatural, comics and horror books he tells me he likes. Children are now asserting their opinions, one young person leaves a comment in the library’s red message book “I don’t think the library should be closed Friday because other libraries don’t close on a Friday and because that’s when students can do their homework on weekends but it could be close on Wednesdays only I think”.

In this age of protectionism and risk assessment I am quite shocked to hear that children as young as ten used to come into the library on their own. However Gwen informs me that this still happens today, with some children being as young as eight. The library encourages parents or carers to accompany young children. One baby was recently enrolled at just four days old!
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