Who’s who: Islington librarian Adenike Johnson on austerity, ‘street corner universities’ and growing up in Highbury

Adenike Johnson in Parliament with Gill Furniss, MP for Sheffield Brightside and libraries champion.

Adenike Johnson in Parliament with Gill Furniss, MP for Sheffield Brightside and libraries champion. Picture: Adenike Johnson - Credit: Archant

Meet the Highbury-born library boss who represented the borough in Parliament. She spoke about the huge range of services on offer at Islington’s ‘street corner universities’, from taekwondo to help claiming Universal Credit. The Gazette found out more.

When Adenike Johnson isn’t shelving books, she’s championing Islington in Parliament.

Adenike, who goes by Nike (pronounced “Nikki”), manages Lewis Carroll Children’s Library, in Copenhagen Street, and West Library, in Bridgeman Road.

Her career spans back to 1997, when she started working for Camden Council. She switched to Islington five years ago, but jokes that she’s “still one of the new girls”.

“One of my favourite things about working in Islington’s libraries is the massive diversity,” said Nike. “No two days are the same and the other thing I really love about this job is the difference we can make to people’s lives.”

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Asked how the two libraries differ, she said: “Lewis Carroll is a brand new purpose built library so it’s really gorgeous, clean and easy to access.

“But West Library is a really beautiful old Carnegie build that’s been around since 1907 – and I have a wood burning fire in my office.”

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Andrew Carnegie was an American steel tycoon and philanthropist who helped bankroll five libraries in the borough.

“The demographics are quite mixed because in Islington we get people who are wealthy and people who don’t have a lot of money living side-by-side.

“We also get different demographics because West is one of three dedicated children’s libraries in the borough, whereas Lewis Carroll is on the border with Camden.”

Nike, who was raised in Liverpool Road and went to Highbury Quadrant Primary School, represented Islington in Parliament on Tuesday.

It was part of the annual Library Week, whose theme this year was wellbeing.

“People are really isolated,” said Nike, “especially old people, so libraries are their lifeline.

“In my library we have an exhaustive list of things for the community, from dance classes and live music once a month, to children’s clubs, writing classes, dominoes, baby bounce, cooking and taekwondo – there’s more to libraries than some people think.

“One of our key things in Islington is, despite ongoing budget constraints, we want to make libraries the cultural hubs of our communities and for them to be street corner universities.

“We are one of the few local authorities that still has all our libraries open and we staff them with fully-trained workers.”

Nike, who has a Master’s in information management, said volunteers are “great” but not the same as having fully qualified staff.

She added: “We are also trying to support people with Universal Credit because more and more of it is online.

“We also help people with job searches. Come into a library – there are so many things to help you change your life around.”

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