Crofton Park Library
A Forty Year Affair With Crofton Park Library

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, recalls that when she first started to visit Crofton Park in the early sixties, she had to wait patiently for the librarian to finish whatever it was she was doing before speaking to her. Gwen was ten when she started to visit Crofton Pak library, having used Deptford Library previously. In those days the Children’s Library 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. Some beginning to her forty odd year affair with Crofton Park Library!

It is not surprising that Gwen both enjoyed and ended up working in libraries. Her mother worked in a library and encouraged Gwen to read from an early age. As a teenager Gwen had thought about becoming a librarian but had also toyed with the idea of becoming a speech therapist. Her mind was made up for her by her uncle, the alpha male of the family, who insisted that Gwen would have better opportunities in library work.

Gwen started working at a university library at the age of eighteen, but found haughty students irritated her nasal cavities. Nine months later she was feeling more at home after she had secured employment in her native Lewisham. Since then Gwen has become a chartered librarian and following in her father’s footsteps become a union representative. Gwen likes to ‘fight for the underdog’ and has spent a large part of her career working to make libraries accessible to lesbian, gay and bisexual communities, people with a disability, carers, women, children and minority ethnic groups. Gwen is unflinching in her opinions, and tells me she feels Lewisham have undervalued their libraries at times. She notes that whilst over 40 years ago national legislation required all local authorities to provide efficient public libraries the government has not until recently set standards against which Lewisham and other authorities have been measured.

I asked Gwen about the library’s interior, commenting on the violent orange carpet, which I contrasted with the beautiful shine of the varnished wooden floors that I could see in photos of the library from the sixties and seventies. Gwen prefers the carpet telling me they cut down on noise and are more comfortable. She adds ‘I don’t think there were many staff who didn’t at one time or another deposit themselves inelegantly on the floor’. Gwen does however express distaste at the quality of the shelves that the library currently uses. They were purchased by Lewisham Library Service for a number of its libraries.

I also point out that the library can get awfully stuffy and hot. Gwen introduces me to the concept of ‘speed painting’, which she says happens when the painters come round to do the windows. Their sloppy strokes leave paint between the window and its sill, effectively welding the two together. This is currently being rectified.

Gwen notes that the children’s library is well used, and points out that there are under fives groups on Thursday and Friday mornings, where there are songs and rhymes. Gwen tells me that some library users have complained that the noise gives them a headache. Her reply is, ‘It goes right through my hearing aid too’; which highlights her determination to have the library used by the local community.

Gwen told me that ex-Arsenal footballer David Rocastle used Crofton Park Library in the 1970s. Said Gwen, ‘To all intents and purposes he was just like any other boy, he always had a cheeky smile, but invariably the football came into the library before he did – I’d just remind him to leave it on the counter while he chose his books’.

I notice that both Gwen and Pat came into the library at the ages of ten years old. I asked Gwen if children still come into the library on their own at the age of ten. Gwen says they do and adds that sometimes eight year olds come in on their own. The library encourages parents or carers to accompany young children and to register their children as members when they are any younger than eight. One baby was recently enrolled at just four days old!

I ask Gwen if there is much theft in the library. She tells me that they don’t really know if a book has been stolen until they make a specific point of looking for it. She mentioned a group of young ‘tearaways’ who used to take CDs to the toilet to break the security boxes, and who would sometimes try to escape with their goods by diving over the barrier. ‘They were told they were not welcome’ said Gwen.

I asked Gwen about the user base. She said that she didn’t think as many elderly people or adults generally used the library as in the 80s or 90s– possibly because the stock is not as varied as it once was. Stock budgets have not kept pace with prices. She didn’t have any statistics to hand about the take-up of different ethnic groups in the area although she did feel more Turkish people were starting to use the library. She pointed out that older members of some communities don’t read even in their indigenous language, and so might be less likely to use the library. She adds that ‘Heritage Language’ stock is provided in some of the larger libraries.

When I entered such a small library I imagined that Gwen as Branch Librarian would be in charge of book selection given her intimate knowledge of local needs and interests. Not so. Gwen has some involvement in ordering replacements for worn stock and she prepares the stock plan which indicates gaps in provision. However in Lewisham the selection of new library material is centralised and partly outsourced to a private Library Supplier, one of many who operate nationally to gain contracts from local authorities. Gwen explained that local authorities often form consortia to get better deals from the suppliers.
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