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Library opened by Mark Twain falls victim to austerity cuts

Oli Scarff / Getty Images, file

A woman looks through donated books which are available for free loan outside Kensal Rise library in London, England.

LONDON -- A British library opened more than a century ago by one of America’s greatest writers is being closed because of austerity budget cuts.

Kensal Rise public library, in north-west London, was unveiled in 1900 by Mark Twain while he was living in the city.


He donated five of his own works to its initial collection, which had been established in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

But 112 years later -- and days away from the Diamond Jubilee of Victoria's granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II -- the library is facing its end as part of spending cuts by the local council.

Oli Scarff / Getty Images, file

Protest posters on Kensal Rise library in London, England.

It has been locked up and unused for more than a year. Workers for Brent Council attempted to clear out the remaining books on Wednesday but were met with resistance from local campaigners.

Since the closure was announced, a group of activists has called for it to be saved, enlisting modern British literary figures such as Alan Bennett to their cause.

For the activists, the library is a piece of history worth holding on to but the council says the number of users is too low to justify keeping it open.

It is one of six libraries closed in the area, representing a 50 percent cut in services. The council says it has used some of the savings to support a remaining library within a civic center that is more popular.

The building was donated to the community by Oxford University’s All Souls College through an Act of Parliament. Under that law, the facility can only be used by the council as a free library. The library’s closure means ownership will pass automatically back to the college.

A spokesman for All Souls told msnbc.com: "This is not something we engineered, this is not something we ever contemplated happening and we regret what is happening."

Campaigner Margaret Bailey expressed anger at the closure and pledged to continue the fight, praising "the support of the local community."

The protesters have set up a small free-loan library outside to distribute books to the community.

Bailey hopes to present a proposal to the college to establish a private volunteer-run library at the site.

The council has suspended its closure plans the removal of books in order to consult further with the campaigners. But for now the books will stay in their boxes and the library will remain closed.

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