Muswell Hill Library celebrates 80 years service to community

Muswell Hill library, which celebrates its 80th birthday this week, is seen by many residents as a lasting testament to the beloved place of libraries in society.

As many libraries in Camden and across the UK close as councils struggle with depleted budgets, the reading room in Queens Avenue, Muswell Hill, remains for many residents a beacon of public learning.

Ken Gay, president of Hornsey Historical Society, said: “It was supported by Muswell Hill residents. They acted and campaigned for the library. Also, the president of Haringey Council has said that they will not close libraries.”

Built in 1931 in a rich neo-classical design, the library replaced an older fire station.

Its striking architectural features, including working lanterns on either side of the main entrance, give a distinctive inter-war feel to the beloved library.

In recent years the reading room has broadened out from just lending books to hosting talks, social and cultural events.

It also offers computer access and lends films and music, which have proved very popular.

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“It is a very well used library,” said branch manager Lorna Thomson. “We are one of the biggest borough libraries,”

The site of the library has strong links with the book trade going back to the 18th century.

The Gurney family, who pioneered shorthand techniques, Richard Marshall, a well-known Victorian bookseller, and Charles Ernest Mudie, the prolific book-lender, all lived on the site at different times before it became a public library.

But much has changed since the Victorian libraries were commercial services catering to the needs of the well-to-do who could afford the fees.

When the Muswell Hill library opened in 1931 it provided free access to books and newspapers to the man on the street.

When he started going to libraries as a child in the 1940s, Mr Gay remembers books being the object of fascination.

“Books were dear then, they needed to look after them, so everyone was bound in thick brown leather,” he said.

That changed with the widespread publication of paperbacks, and back in the 1960s libraries started to lend music.

Nowadays the library is relied upon by “people from all sectors of the community, and that’s how it should be,” said Mr Gay.

“The important thing is, libraries are part of the community and that’s why they survive,” he said.

The 80th birthday celebrations were an occasion for Mr Gay to talk about the history of the library.

Staff also thanked Diane Edmunds, head of libraries at Haringey Council, who has stepped down from her post after 10 years.

Library staff cut the birthday cake and enjoyed music from St James’ Primary School choir, while children were entertained with crafts activities and presentations from nine children’s authors on Saturday (October 15).