July 6 marked the first time that Putney librarian, Frances Craig, was able to set foot in her beloved library since before lockdown.

And by the end of next week, all libraries across Wandsworth will join Putney in opening their doors.

“We were so delighted to reopen again, because we were able to see everyone who we’ve missed over lockdown,” says Mrs Craig.

A librarian for over 16 years, from Kingston all the way to Australia, libraries have always been a foundational part of her life.

“I’ve always loved libraries. I was a teacher for 20 years and when I had a career change it wasn’t about what I wanted to do, but where I wanted to be.

“And I really like being in a library. Some people think libraries are just quiet places - they are, but there’s an awful lot more going on,” she said.

Wandsworth Times:

Long-serving librarian, Frances Craig

At the heart of the community – the book groups, talks and language classes are just some of the events that Putney Library offers.

Mrs Craig says when these were forced to move online, they drew a respectable audience from people who missed their weekly catchups.

But now library services are slowly beginning to revive, the librarian says she has noticed how much people value them.

“Books can now be ordered via a click and collect service, and computers are available for 30-minute slots.

“It’s great to see people who have been cut off from internet access over lockdown come back in and make their lives easier,” Mrs Craig says.

And for those who did have access, there was a surge in people downloading Ebooks over lockdown.

According to the Council, over 1,000 new customers joined the Wandsworth library service online over the last four months.

Wandsworth Times:

Books have become more popular admid lockdown

Mrs Craig says the surge in readers could be because of what books offer people in isolation -- a sense of comfort and escapism.

“I picked up an old Dickens book that usually I wouldn’t have chosen. His stories are from a different time, so when we were all avidly watching the news it was nice to be in the 19th century, away from current affairs.

“It was also set in a different place – so perhaps his travels through Italy provided a bit of wish fulfilment,” she said.

However, Mrs Craig admits she missed flipping though the pages of her favourite novels.

“Ebooks, for myself included, are not the same as a physical book. We had long queues outside the Library door when we first opened again, as people couldn’t wait to get their hands on a physical book again.”

Since re-opening, she said the library has had 100-200 requests for books a day. All the staff are doing their best to keep the public safe, by quarantining books and delivering using click and collect.

Mrs Craig understands though that readers miss the chance to browse by themselves for books.

“The question I get asked most is when is the library going to be open properly? And we really do sympathise, we would like to be open properly as well.

“It’s brought home to me how much a library is not just a room full of books, it’s so much more than that. I really hope we’ll be back there again as soon as it’s safe.”