Why the Citizen Supports… The Local Studies Archive

By - Friday 11th January, 2013

Who we are is under threat. What better reason to fight?

LATEST UPDATE: It was announced at a full council meeting on the 28/01/13 that the Local Studies Archive will continue to be open to the public. It will now, however be moving to the ground floor and there is some suggestion that opening hours could be increased, and access made easier. The Citizen welcomes this announcement although we will remain cautious until more details about the revised service are released.

It’s no secret our heritage is under threat. Anyone who took the time to look at Croydon Council’s last budget document(proposed on 10th December last year) will know that our excellent local studies archive is facing another serious cut. The council’s current cost-saving plan will see it reduced to a legal minimum – which could mean the end of regular access to the collection forever.

This must be stopped.

This won’t be a sexy or evocative cause for some. Why die in a ditch over an archive of ‘dusty books’ and ‘old photographs’? Who cares, when we’re all worried about our jobs, and there are so many other bigger issues? But the answer for me is simple: this resource is who we are – we need it to build a brighter future.

In the last 2,000 years Croydon saw every major technological, social, and cultural change that Britain experienced. From Roman occupation to the power of the Church. From Feudalism to the age of the Commuter. From the Industrial Revolution to the growth of a truly multi-cultural society. In a quiet way, it’s been there for every moment – one step ahead of the UK as a whole.

In this way, it has learned for Britain. Sometimes leading the way for the sleepier towns of Britain to follow, sometimes rushing ahead to make their mistakes for them. Our fading 60s ‘downtown’ is a poignant legacy of both of these things: the development that made us the miniature city we are today, causing our economy to boom, and the gradually crumbling architecture that has won us a grave reputation for profound ugliness, causing it to shrink.

The Town Hall Complex

One of the last features of a once great complex of culture – we must save this library

Tell the council what you think now

You need to submit your view by the 15th of January, here. 

Our archive IS the record of all those triumphs, mistakes and the simple, human stories behind them. Births, deaths, businesses, jobs, memoirs, social gatherings, hobbies, tragedies, war, and the thousands of ephemeral moments and trinkets that serve as the backdrops to the great scenes of our lives. But it is also something more than an epic of memory- it’s a practical lesson about our future.

It is often thought twee to quote hackneyed aphorisms. But there is one I cannot resist here: ‘Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it.’ When you visit this resource, you’ll see what I mean. Every moribund debate and every poorly thought-out idea that rears its head in Croydon today, has had an almost exact antecedent: “Should we be a part of London?”, “Let’s knock down all the old, crumbling buildings – then the town will be better” , “Shopping will provide all we need”, “Why don’t we focus just on the local people’s needs? – only local people mater”. Visit these archives and you will see these sentiments expressed down the ages, again and again. Only one real problem has ever underscored these debates. Their participants failed to discover they were part of a long line of similar minds who failed, or refused, to learn.

In the last 2,000 years Croydon saw every major technological, social, and cultural change that Britain experienced….In a quiet way, it’s been there for every moment – one step ahead of the UK as a whole.

But we must learn. We can see that we stand on the shoulders of millions who came before. We know we need to understand them to understand ourselves. So today, fresh from doing our bit for theatre at Matthews Yard, we announce our second campaign: to save our local studies library.

It won’t be an easy fight. But you can do your bit right now by following the link to this consultation document and tell the council why the archive matters so much. You have until 15th January to make your opinion known.

But don’t leave it to me to convince you this is important. There are many excellent reasons to support this campaign. Each of the following users of the archive service have put their own thoughts on the Citizen:

Kake Pugh, Croydon Citizen contributor who relies on this resource to tell her fascinating story of the ordinary on London Road

“The Local Studies Library and Archives Service is used by a diverse cross-section of the population — all ages, all social classes, all ethnicities. It’s a place where we can learn about and become proud of our past, and I think it’s one of the most important tools we have as we move forward to shape Croydon’s future.”

Read Kake’s full article on the LSA here

Paul Sowan, an archivist and librarian with the Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society, whose research is incorporated into the Local Studies Library’s archive

“The LSA collection is a dynamic, living and growing record of Croydon’s past and ongoing history. History doesn’t stop — it’s being created around us at every moment. If Croydon Council dispenses with the services of three professional LSA staff to save £105,000 a year, an irreplaceable resource of local knowledge will have been sacrificed.”

Read Paul’s full article on the LSA here

Sean Creighton, local historian and editor of the national History and Social Action Diary

“Croydon Council’s Local Studies section has three boxes of material about the life of its composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor that it has accumulated over the years. This material was useful to Jeffrey Green in researching his major biography on the composer published in 2011. Material in it was used during last year’s Croydon Festival commemorating the life of the composer, and by the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network, which has a readership across the country and in the United States. Chris Bennett, the Local Archivist, was able to use some of the material for the display he mounted about the composer in the Central Library. There is a lot more material that can be used in the future.”

Read Sean’s full article on the LSA here

Make your voice heard now.

James Naylor

James Naylor

James grew up in Coulsdon. After a brief spell in Somerset he returned to central Croydon as a useful London base. Since then however, his enthusiasm for Croydon has slowly grown into obsession – leading him to set up Croydon Tours and eventually the Croydon Citizen. James is particularly interested in the power of local media to foster new ways of thinking about communities and how to empower them. He is most interested in putting Croydon in a wider context within London, the economy and across time. During the week, he works for an advertising technology company hailing from Silicon Valley. When he’s not working on Croydon-related projects, he enjoys desperately nerdy but hugely enjoyable boardgames. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

    How many locals know of and have even seen the Riesco Chinese pottery collection at the Croydon museum? This is just a tiny fraction of Croydon history and personally I would rather see it sold off and the money invested and used to keep the Local Studies Archive open. This was a suggestion that I have made previously in an open letter to the local newspapers when the David Lean Cinema was being closed and later I heard rumours that the council had flirted with the idea of selling a few pieces. Once you have seen the collection it’s not really something you return to see again and even if it brought in hordes of Chinese pottery enthusiasts there’s no admission fee to go in to the coffers to be spent in other areas. I think it would be a sacrifice worth making to keep the LSA open.

    • http://www.earth.li/~kake/ Kake

      I’ve been to see it three times :) (Though admittedly the second and third times were taking other people in to see it.)

      I’m generally unsure about the wisdom of selling off assets to generate income. I’d much rather get rid of the freeze on council tax.

  • http://twitter.com/LordBensham Terry Coleman

    If the town loses sight of it’s history, it loses sight of it’s self.

  • James Naylor

    That’s an interesting idea Andrew. One the one hand, its connection to Croydon is fairly incidental There is also a strong argument that it’s more of a burden than a benefit. On the other hand it’s a delightful oddity and I share Kake’s concerns about selling off assets to generate income; something which is, of course, not sustainable in the long term. Plus, I would never be confident that the council would spend it well.

    Is there any argument for leasing the collection out to exhibitions? My understanding is there are some genuinely rare, unusual pieces in there. Perhaps it could generate revenue that way? I must admit it’s not something I know anything about.

    +1 to Terry. I think you may have summed up my article more effectively than me!