Pressure groups step up campaign over library plans

Lambeth community groups expressed their worries over the re-opening of Carnegie Library in February.

Lambeth Council faced a lot of backlash when it announced that the basement would be converted into a gym and that it would temporarily close from April 2016.

Even though, the library is set to reopen on February 15, Friends of Carnegie Library, a community group in Herne Hill, have opposed the council’s plans to make changes to the service.

Jeff Doorn, chair of Friends of Carnegie Library, said: “We had a full library, open 36 hours a week, fully staffed by professional librarians with nearly 20,00 books, many clubs, activities and events. It was a thriving, successful library with increasing membership, [who were] visiting and borrowing every single month.

“We want the library to reopen as it was and more. But in fact, it will be much reduced”

Friends of Carnegie was founded in 1999 in response to the council’s decision to close the library.

In 2015, the council’s announced that to the library will be turned into a neighbourhood library run by a community group through an asset transfer and a gym in the excavated basement run by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), the council’s leisure provider.

Mr Doorn said: “What they are offering now is a much smaller space, perhaps a third of what we had before. They say they will cram 18,00 books into that new library space, we don’t see how they will fit them in with the adults, teens and children using the library, computers and study tables.

“I don’t see how it can work. It’s too reduced.”

In a statement, councillor Sonia Winifred, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Culture, responded: “During this time of government spending cuts, particularly to local authority budgets, many libraries up and down the country have sadly closed for good.

“In Lambeth however, we have worked hard to find solutions that means all ten of our libraries are remaining open, serving their local communities and providing a great service to our residents.”

Defend the Ten is another group, which was founded in December 2015 to campaign for all ten of Lambeth libraries to stay open as they were without reduced or modified services.

They have resisted the council’s plans during many protests and even occupied Carnegie Library for several days after its closure.

Helen O’Rourke, a resident and campaigner, said: “It’s such a false economy, the library saves Lambeth council so much money. Social care, education needs, health and well-being. It’s peanuts to run a library but all the problems that arise as a result of not having a library cost a lot more.”

Another change that has sparked criticism from both groups is the proposed use of the main room, which was the first ever open-access library space designed in the world.

The plans put forward by the Carnegie Community Trust (the preferred bidder for the asset transfer) include a café, an enterprise centre, space for meetings and community events, and space for hire.

The library was built in 1905 thanks to the funds provided by Andrew Carnegie and the building, which features Edwardian civic architecture, was Grade II-listed in 1981.

Speaking of the main room, Mrs O’Rourke said: “It’s a massive loss for the community. Andrew Carnegie felt that if you were using the library, the main room was what you deserved.

“It was his gift to the people. I do not see why it should be emptied out for some room for hire space.”

Defend the Ten has also set up a countdown campaign on Twitter ahead of the council elections in May 2018.

Every week, Lambeth residents are featured on the page to share their own memories of the library and encourage other to reply in the comments and share their opinions on the library and what is happening to it.

Demi, 18, said: “I started to pop in every week and I eventually became a volunteer for the Summer Reading Challenge (SRC). The SRC is so good but it does rely on librarian to sort it out. I noticed a lot of kids didn’t know what to read so the librarians helped them.

“What’s the point of replacing the library with mainly unsupervised spaces? How does it work without a full-time librarian? Let’s face it, one librarian for 2 hours a day won’t be able to do much.”

Mrs O’Rourke added: “We are sending a message to Lambeth council that we still care about the library, we haven’t gone away and we’re going to fight for a proper library service with librarians.”

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