Lambeth council had planned to lock the doors of Carnegie Library to the public at 6.00.pm on Thursday night. Instead library users refused to leave and vowed to keep the library in the hands of the community.
A spokesperson for the stay-in protestors said “This is not Lambeth Council’s library to close after 110 years, it belongs to the locality. We are staying here to publicise just what Lambeth’s Labour council is doing to our local libraries – ripping the heart out of them to turn them into unwanted gyms.”
Protestors have already festooned the Carnegie library with posters and banners showing the community will resist shutting our library. The aim is to turn the user controlled Carnegie library into a beacon of resistance to library cuts and closures across Lambeth and the country.
In early March Lambeth Council announced it was pushing ahead with its unpopular Culture 2020 library plans which involved library closures and turning some, like Carnegie, into gyms with a few unstaffed bookshelves. They rejected the Head of Library’s alternative plan for a staff/community mutual which would have saved all ten libraries.
Current council plans for Carnegie involve planning a massive excavation in the basement of the library to turn it into a gym space. Carnegie Library is a Grade 2 listed building. Minet library is also closing its doors today as a lending library, with plans again to turn it into a gym. Waterloo library is closing as well to be sold off at a future date.
Consultations have shown no support for the council’s gym plans and led to growing protests and demonstrations led by Defend the Ten libraries campaign
It forced one concession in early March with Durning and Tate South Lambeth Libraries being spared the fate of being turned into gyms. The Upper Norwood Joint Library is having all professional library staff withdrawn on 30th April to become a “self-service” library. A quarter of library staff have been pushed into taking redundancy.
Campaigners say that Lambeth Council is making no attempt at dialogue – ‘the very problem that drove us to occupy library in 1st place. Only reaction is to tell us to leave, call in police, deploy extra security guards – none of them have found they have anything to do at all. All running well in here.’
The deal with leisure firm GLL to instal gyms in Carnegie, Minet will cost £3m capital and £1+m revenue.
According to the BBC, Lambeth Council has described the occupation as “obstructive” and “misleading”, as the library’s closure is “only temporary”.
In their press statement the campaigners respond:
‘Are we misleading?
By its own admission, Lambeth Council will never re-open these buildings as proper libraries. In the Council’s own words (1): “Both Carnegie and Minet will be retained, but we can only afford to do that by changing the nature of the services there. In partnership with Greenwich Leisure Limited, the social enterprise organisation that runs Lambeth’s leisure centres, these two libraries will offer fitness centres alongside some library services.”
When they re-open, stock, PCs and space would be much reduced. There would be no staff on site at all to help people. And according to Unison, it would be too unsafe for children to visit unaccompanied. Campaigners say: “That’s not a library service, so the library is closing.”
‘’Are we obstructive?
If Lambeth council had had their way, the library would now be completely closed and empty of people. We are keeping it clean, bright and full of books. The council is obstructing the community from coming in.
On the other hand, campaigners have spent 6 months trying to set up a constructive relationship with Lambeth, including presenting an alternative plan for a staff/community mutual trust, that had the support of all. Instead, there has been no negotiation, staff have been on strike and we have had to occupy the library to try and get our voices heard. The chess club and all the other free other community activities now have no place to go. When the buildings re-open, free activities run by volunteers will have to pay to hire space. Their futures are obstructed.
The occupation is a last resort to obstruct the council in their quest to destroy our local library and replace it with an unwanted GLL gym with a few books. We want them to work with the community on the alternative plan for the community/staff mutual, which we all support. This would save all our 10 libraries – and cost FAR LESS than the ridiculous GLL gym plan.
On the BBC, a council spokesman said the Carnegie “would reopen to the public, for longer hours, in early 2017 and will have a neighbourhood library service, health and fitness facilities and space for community groups to use”.
Longer hours to access very little! Little stock, no staff. We don’t even know if there can be maintainable IT facilities. Because there will be no staff, it will be too unsafe for kids to visit at any time! In 2014 a consultation took place in which the idea of a gym at the Carnegie was explicitly rejected. And those “community groups” – now run by volunteers, helping people for free – will have to pay to hire space.’
According to the Financial Times Lambeth Council say that “libraries tend to have articulate, educated supporters while other local services do not”. ‘We have heard this argument time and time again. On the contrary, anyone who visits public libraries regularly will see how they are used by all sections of the community and it is precisely this diversity and openness that we value. Nobody needs a referral or appointment to use a library. Lambeth council’s equalities impact assessment (report to Cabinet, 12 October 2015) frankly admits there is no way to mitigate the future loss to a long list of vulnerable people.
We abhor the cuts to all local authority services. But Lambeth is hiding the truth. The alternative proposal would save money while continuing to offer a safe, staffed space for vulnerable people and all library users. The GLL plan costs money to Lambeth who are paying for the refurbishment and backing the first year of operation.
Caroline Christian paediatric psychotherapist: “Lambeth is the borough with most inequality and poverty. Under 16s use the libraries evenings and at weekends to learn and to complete their homework.”
Rashid Nix Green Party GLA Lambeth and Southwark candidate May 2016: “This is a complete betrayl of the people of Lambeth. There was a time when barbarians destroyed and burned libraries, nowadays its the Labour politicians who carry out these acts of cultural vandalism. “
Steve Martin writer and historian: “This occupation really needs to be done in all libraries. It is amodel of the sort of action that is needed nationwide. Its brilliant to see the community standing up for libraries – public assets that should be safeguarded.”
Jeremy Clyne former councillor for streatham hill and former lib dem culture spokesperson on Lambeth Council: “The council wanted to shut Carnegie Library before, and it was defeated by a strong and united campaign. Now they have done the unthinkable and locked the door. I’m sure that even now – if enough people come together to fight it – this stupid and short-sighted decision can be revised.”
Greta Thompson age 18, Year 13 student: “Carnegie has taken me through 11 GCSE’s and 4 As levels. Now when I face the most important exam season of my life (A2 levels to get into uni) this amazing study space is being stolen. Not only is it heatbreaking, but grade threatening!”