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Chinese library cut ‘is humiliating’

10 March, 2017

Angry: Merlene Toh Emerson

RIPPLES of anger this week after a library containing one of the city’s largest collections of Chinese language books fell victim to austerity cuts.

The Charing Cross Library – which contains the Chinese library – is seen by many as a valued meeting point for the Chinese community.

But now its chief book specialist, Chinese service co-ordinator Madame Qiyu Li, is facing the axe from Westminster Council, after eight years in the post.

Many people aren’t happy. Members of the area’s Chinese community have spoken up about how important the role is and that it should be saved.

Helena Zhang, who works in the area, said: “I am very proud that we have had that Chinese library in place for 25 years. This staff member has worked with the community, managing Chinese literature readings for groups all the time. Someone doing this really benefits the community and now the anger shows how much people don’t want to lose the service. We feel they [the council] did not really consult with the community at all.”

The library had become a hub, with everything from new year celebrations to lectures on how to pay tax in England and how to buy antiques.

The role will be replaced with a generic post of community development manager, who will cover all of the BAME – black, Asian, and minority ethnic – communities in the borough. With more than 100 nationalities across Westminster, many fear the Chinese service will be diluted.

Ms Zhang said: “It just makes all the people in the Chinese community angry. It’s like the money from China and investment matters, but people who are living here don’t deserve anything though they are local residents and UK citizens. We feel actually humiliated.”

She added: “We don’t want the council telling us we still have the books there, because without the post, how can you maintain, let alone develop this service?

“They don’t want to talk to us. The responses we get are very vague. Why didn’t we hear anything about this before it was cut?”

Co-founder of the Chinese Liberal Democrats Merlene Toh Emerson said: “The Charing Cross Library is so key to the Chinese community. It is the only one of its kind. It has Chinese support staff and is very well used by Chinese community. It is a shame Westminster Council have not taken this into account.”

Westminster’s Labour group leader Adam Hug said: “Since the book budget has been cut by about two-thirds from 2010, the current co-ordinator has been working contacts in China to get materials sent over for free.

“If you replace that with a generic role, will they be able to do that and continue to get new material?

“The library is a major meeting point for the Chinese community and an important resource for that community.

“It is one of the largest collections of Chinese language material in the world.”

David Harvey, cabinet member for environment, sports and community, said: “The Chinese library service, that many people in Westminster’s Chinese community value, will continue to provide a high quality service at the site.”


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