Streatham’s Tate Library has been at the heart of the town since it was gifted by Sir Henry Tate to its inhabitants in 1890.
Over the past 122 years it has served generations of Streathamites loyally, supporting literacy in the early days of a fragmented education system, and being a principle source of ‘free’ news through its newspaper collections, especially important during periods of economic downturn when buying a paper was a luxury for some.
This was the environment that British public libraries were forged to serve.
Of course times change; times are constantly changing. We obviously don’t live now the way we did in 1890, in fact not really even the way we did in 1980.
Today we are almost in a post public library era. Virtually everyone has books at home, internet (either at home, school, or work), and we are generally well educated and literate.
We are a blessed generation. We live in an ‘information rich’ world accessible at the touch of a button, but this should not make us look at public libraries as archaic or irrelevant just because ‘we’ do not use them nor understand them.
No public library is just about books – not to devalue that critical lending service – and no public library is just about being told ‘shush’ (quite important though in study areas).
They are dynamic, social places inhabited by various user groups utilising many different types of media. For many they are the only places to meet the like-minded, or to find materials to read, or to study.
But none of this should imply that things are perfect. Under-investment, under-funding, have impeded development over many decades.
The present Age of Austerity does not help, but it is the real world in which we have to live.
Community is about all of us. Public services are about all of us.
But for these to work we need to engage. We need to put the far too often destructive forces of politics to one side and co-operate, making our reasoned and unselfish voices heard, to produce something worthwhile.
Streatham Tate can be such a place. Restoring its original grandeur, re-fitting the library, opening up spaces for community and enterprise use are all achievable if we think and work creatively.
Streatham has often been maligned, but is now building in confidence.
It deserves a centre that can serve and inspire.