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Librarian: Keeping gong secret was quite difficult

Man who transformed Islington's libraries ‘shocked and surprised’ by British Empire Medal honour

04 January, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Tony Brown was included in the New Year Honours list this week, awarded the BEM for services to public libraries

ISLINGTON’S chief library manager has revealed it was a “strange few weeks” keeping his British Empire Medal a secret from his friends and family.

Tony Brown’s first job after studying Art History at Middlesex University was as a library assistant at the now-closed John Barnes Library in Holloway. Almost 40 years later, Mr Brown was rewarded for his hard work transforming library lending in the borough by being included in the New Year Honours list this week.

Mr Brown, 59, has dedicated his life to educating and entertaining the borough’s residents through the power of books. He even rapped about the power of words to a song by Sonny and Cher during the annual Islington Word festival in 2017 which promotes reading.

“I found out about the nomination on November 29. You get a letter through the post and are required to keep it quiet. It was quite difficult, particularly with family. It was quite a strange few weeks, particularly with Christmas,” he said.

Mr Brown, who commutes in from Waltham Forest, said he was “shocked and very surprised” to have been awarded the BEM for services to public libraries.

Tony Brown rapping with former mayor Cllr Una O’Halloran

“It took a couple of weeks to sink in and until I realised it was actually happening,” he said.

Islington’s 10 libraries welcome around one million visitors a year, and Mr Brown aims to make them as inclusive as possible.

The libraries have launched an Arabic books collection and also host reading events for toddlers led by a purple-haired drag queen.

He said: “The libraries in Islington are more than just somewhere to borrow books. They are important community hubs, serving as centres of reading, learning, development and a safe space for residents from all walks of life. ”

He said he was “most proud” of the various initiatives spearheaded by the library services to promote reading for pleasure to all communities, whether young or old. Mr Brown will receive his award from the Lord Lieutenant for London later in the year and has been invited to Buckingham Palace for a royal summer party.

Imam Mohammed Mahmoud

Meanwhile, the Finsbury Park Imam who sprung into action after a terror attack in 2017 is on the New Year Honours list. Mohammed Mahmoud has been awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to the community in London.

He urged people not to hurt attacker Darren Osborne after he ploughed a van into worshippers killing 51-year-old grandfather Makram Ali in June 2017.

Osborne had been wrestled to the ground by a group of men before the police arrived.

In a video taken at the time of the attack Imam Mahmoud is seen putting himself between Osborne and a group of shouting men. Osborne was jailed for a minimum of 43 years in February 2018 for the attack.

Imam Mahmoud has now moved from Muslim Welfare House to the East London Mosque in Whitechapel.

‘I am glad that autism has been acknowledged’

Jessica Kingsley

THE founder of a King’s Cross publishing house that aims to educate people about autism was celebrated in the New Year Honours list this week, writes Emily Finch.

Jessica Kinglsey, 69, wanted to dispel myths around the disorder, which affects at least 700,000 people in the UK.

She started her company Jessica Kingsley Publishers from her living room in Hackney in 1987 but it quickly expanded to offices in Pentonville Road and later to King’s Cross.

Her books are aimed at academics, children and parents who are looking to understand the effects of the behavioural condition that may affect social interaction and communication.

“I wanted to make books which are properly accessible to parents which are positive about autism. If you have a child with autism you will be worried and will put a lot of effort into finding out what to do. I wanted to help with that,” said Ms Kingsley.

Ms Kingsley was awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for services to people with autism.

Of the nomination, she said: “I am glad autism has been acknowledged as being important and that people thought what I have done was worth doing.”

She added: “It was an awful lot of hard work running the company.”

Ms Kingsley has now handed over the reins of her publishing house to Hachette UK.

She said: “It’s nice not to worry as much. I am now finding a new mission and following my interests in Chinese medicine and Eastern Orthodox Church icons. I have painted one or two myself and recently visited Greece, which I would not have been able to do before retirement.”

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