As Shoreditch booklover Ivy White sheltered from the bombs in the East End during the blitz in World War II, she realised what the terrified children needed was comfort and escapism – they needed books.
Working with local libraries, White took the initiative to devise a plan which saw books available in 25 air raid shelters across East London for children and adults alike, going on to write the blueprint of Hackney’s community library service as we know it today.
Hers is one of several stories being shared by Hackney Libraries today to mark National Libraries Week.
Libraries Week is a national celebration of libraries and the role they play in our communities. Each year, a theme is picked to showcase the events libraries are organising as a driver of inclusion, education, sustainability and social mobility. The theme of 2021’s Libraries Week is ‘Taking Action, Changing Lives’, and the local libraries across Hackney have been coordinating events to bring communities together.
Stoke Newington Library, recognised by Heritage England as a Grade II-listed building, is welcoming visitors for an Open Week to explore their late-Victorian reference library department, with free gifts including a tote bag, books and pens to greet you at the door.
Come and visit us outside Stoke Newington town hall today and show support for your local library. Len has visited us this morning and took some of the free goodies! #librariesweek @CILIPinfo pic.twitter.com/BDJtvU7vjS— Hackney Libraries (@hackneylibs) October 5, 2021
Hackney Libraries have also put on a series of events including a book cover redesign activity on October 8 which will be displayed in Stamford Hill Library for children over 6, as well as Fizz, Pop, Science, which aims to help children discover their love of chemistry through fun experiments on October 9 at Dalston CLR James Library for ages 4-11.
Hackney Libraries have also coordinated events in honour of Black History Month, an annual celebration in October of African and Caribbean backgrounds and the Black experience, as well as raising awareness of racism and challenging negative stereotypes. Stamford Hill Library have created a display of books written by Black authors for all ages, from Latisha M. Perry’s children’s book, Hair Like Mine, to books on Black British history and Malorie Blackman’s BBC-adapted novel Noughts & Crosses. There is also a display dedicated to African masks, with a presentation of masks created by children of the borough.
Using Libraries Week as an opportunity to delve into the role Hackney’s libraries have played in historical events, the Hackney Libraries Twitter account has created a storytelling tweet thread which traces anecdotes and photographs from the Victorian era, including a picture of Haggerston Library selected from Hackney Archives and snapshots of the wreckage left behind after Dalston Library was destroyed by a V2 rocket in World War II.
Hackney Libraries focuses particularly on the story of White and her work with children during the Second World War.
#librariesweek 11 Despite the book shortage, mutilated buildings, library bombings and decline of the population to less than half, Shoreditch’s work to take libraries out to the community led to an 80% increase in books being issued during 1942-1944 pic.twitter.com/dBhbnLncBn— Hackney Libraries (@hackneylibs) October 5, 2021
The idea proved so popular that White and borough librarian CM Jackson ordered book collections in 25 air raid shelters. Hackney Libraries shared: “At Old Street Station during an air raid in 1941, 162 out of 750 shelters borrowed a book.” Hackney Libraries also shared that White sent 200 books to Norfolk and 1500 to East Suffolk for the use of children evacuated from Shoreditch.
In 1946 White passed the Library Association Classification Examination. This new qualification led her to the role of Head Children’s Librarian at Hackney Library.
Councillor Guy Nicholson, deputy mayor for housing supply, planning, culture and inclusive economy told ELL: “We recognise that the library is more than a pace for reading or lending books and that each of Hackney’ eight libraries serves a different audience with a variety of needs.
“For some visiting the local library helps tackle loneliness and social isolation, for others they are meeting spaces to connect with friends or like minded neighbours.They are open and inclusive places that help create a fairer, more equal Hackney. They are places that provide an open door to opportunity for all.
“That’s why we are now creating, with our residents, a long-term plan for our libraries to ensure they remain at the heart of our communities. We want to redesign our library service so they meet the needs of our diverse communities, are fit for the modern, digital world and deliver a range of first-class services that are accessible to everyone.”
Learn more about how Hackney Libraries have been celebrating 2021’s Libraries Week here: https://hackney.gov.uk/libraries-whats-on