Woolwich Centre Library is a formidable building. Sitting at the heart of the square, with several supermarket expansions only a short foot distance away, it competes with some of the biggest chains in the district- and still successfully brings in a mid-evening rush on the Thursday I visit.

All of the charger spaces have been taken up and seats are filled with teenagers doing their homework on several computer rows scattered across the room; pre-Covid, it wouldn’t be unexpected to see a gaggle of children sitting up further by the windows, listening to an animated member of staff telling a story. The latter is one of the many services the library runs, ranging from career workshops, poetry days, and even coding lessons. Even with masks, people are still turning up to use the services, which tracks with previous statistics about the library having grown to a membership of more than 1.2 million in 2018, bucking the national trend that saw library footfall drop by 10 million every year since 2016. In that sense, the Woolwich Centre has proved itself an exception to the rule.

Has the future of libraries always been this bleak? Figures from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy indicate that more than 120 libraries closed in 2017, and that’s not even considering the effects of the pandemic only two years later on the footfall of people walking into libraries. It’s understandable; people following the guidelines leads to fewer visits, even without taking into consideration the steady decline of users before Covid-19.

But as the exception, Woolwich Centre staff and surrounding library and financial experts challenge the assumption that nothing could be done.  Nick Poole, chief executive of the UK's library association the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals has said it himself “The frustrating thing is we know what people want from libraries." The Centre provides free Wi-Fi, an attractive building in a central location, a steady supply of new books, and a community space for their own projects, tutoring, and work. A lot of other libraries simply do not have that luxury.


"It's fundamentally about the quality of the offer… that does come back to money. “ Poole said that on the record as well, and I’m inclined to agree.  Libraries are often deemed as a non-essential service by councils and the government, and in 2021 there have been as much as $5 million cuts from libraries. Sitting in the Woolwich Library, just that one statistic on its own is enough to make me sad and angry.  It’s clear that libraries provide a space for so many different people, from young children to the elderly alike; as implied with the name" It's a place people can come and spend all day without spending a penny," says Woolwich librarian Richard, and he’s right. So what can we do, in the face of unjust budget cuts a drop in people showing to the library, and a lack of enthusiasm for help?


 The only thing we can-  keep showing up.


To keep showing up for public libraries, here are the details for the Centre:

The Woolwich Centre,
35 Wellington Street,
Woolwich SE18 6HQ