Posts Tagged ‘save libraries’

The big borrow

Saturday 11 April 2.30pm

Waterloo Library

Lambeth Libraries are under threat! Come and join the campaign!

The Culture 2020 consultation proposes:

  • Half of Lambeth’s Libraries under threat of closure
  • Immediate sell-off of Minet and Waterloo Libraries
  • Funding stopped to Carnegie, Durning and Upper Norwood Libraries
  • Cut opening hours at remaining libraries
  • Reduce size of West Norwood and Brixton Libraries
  • Replace Libraries with bookshelves in pubs

Come to Waterloo Library and take out your full 15 book allowance, we plan to empty the shelves and show we need our libraries. You can sign up for a library card on the day, bring a proof of address (you do not need to live in Lambeth to join the library).

There will be storytelling and face painting for children, on the day.

What can I do to help?

  1. Download our Big Borrow poster (PDF)  (or in jpeg below) and stick it up at home/work/school/public noticeboards/shops to spread the word.
  2. Share this post on your facebook/twitter/email
  3. Come to the library on Saturday and withdraw your full allowance with all your friends and family!

Big Borrow V1

We called this meeting as Lambeth is consulting on massive cuts to our library service.

The threatened attacks are:

  • Close Waterloo and Minet Libraries this year
  • Cease funding Durning, Carnegie and Upper Norwood Libraries next year
  • Move the Archives into Brixton Library, reducing the provision at Brixton Library
  • Reduce West Norwood Library to a few bookshelves and allow Picturehouse to take over running it.
  • Reduce hours at Brixton, Clapham and Streatham Libraries
  • Reduce the Home Visit Service


The Labour Party in Lambeth rightly say, that there has been an attack from the government on Lambeth, our local services and communities like ours up and down the country. They say, given the scale of the ConDem cuts there is little as they could have done. They say they have to make a budget, they have to be responsible and that they have no other choice.

One thing I would say to that, is they aren’t as they claim prioritising frontline services. One thing you can say about the cuts accross the public sector and the chaos caused by constant restructuring is that some people will get rich off the back of it.

Here in Lambeth we have 17 employees earning in excess of £100,000. That is a pretty big senior management structure for an organisation which is haemorrhaging staff. In addition, there are 19 agency workers in the same pay bracket.  There are another 132 agency workers on daily or hourly rates which are paid equivalent to over £50,000. Next time you are faced with a councillor saying they’ve done everything they can to save frontline services, tell them those figures. Ask them why they shut libraries and close day centres but pay for rebranding and consultatnts.

But honestly that is not enough. There isn’t £90 million worth of waste and “jobs for the boys” in Lambeth. What’s the answer to “What more can we do? We are trying to protect you!” The answer from Lambeth’s trade unions is we want you to fight with us. You make a choice to pass on those Tory cuts without even trying to defy this government. They say “We have to do the responsible thing” – but when Labour Councils did the responsible thing when faced with the first round attacks and passed on the cuts to their communities, the government thanked them by making even deeper cuts. It is not responsible to sell off your libraries; to dismantle services which save lives and make life worth living. It is cowardly and it is disloyal to the people who voted for you.

These cuts and closures will be enacted under the next government – it is a message that not only can’t they stand with us against the Tories they won’t stand with us under a Labour Government. It is not good enough. So we say to the Labour Party, stand with us, fight with us for this borough but if you can’t or you won’t we will fight on without you.

Community Libraries

I went to a meeting last week, where Cllr Edbrooke was speaking. Amongst declarations of how much it broke her heart to see the library service devastated by Tory cuts, she told us all how excited she was about the opportunities. It’s obviously very exciting devastation. And what she’s excited about is community libraries.

Our neighbour Lewisham introduced Community Libraries, let’s see how they fared. Public Library News states;

“The outsourced branches on average experienced a decline of 73% in book issues over one year.”

So what services you receive now, doesn’t your community library have to offer? That might be better asked as, what does you community library have to offer? It doesn’t need to have free internet access; actually it doesn’t have to have free anything, in order to qualify as a community library. Community Libraries can, if they wish, charge for membership. They have fewer books – I have more books in my house than they had in The Railway Pub pop up library. It’s a lovely initiative, we should have more books in pubs but they are not libraries.  They can charge for membership. They don’t have to have storytime and wriggle and rhymes sessions and if they do they do not have to be free. There are places all over Lambeth that charge £10 a child for rhyme times because that’s the way you cover the cost of putting them on. Don’t fall for the scam of community libraries, a cuddly name for the smokescreen put up to cover the closure of the service which belongs to your community and sits in your community and is an actual library – your local public library.

Use it or lose it

When I was a kid if you’d ask me what I was going to be when I grew up, I wouldn’t have guessed a librarian, mainly because I was pretty determined to be a tiger when I grew up. But I always knew libraries would be part of my life, because I loved the library, my parents took me there all the time and I knew once I was grown up I’d go all be myself, every single week. Turns out, if I hadn’t worked in a library that probably wouldn’t be true. Some people  use the library consistently throughout their whole life, most people don’t. It has peaks and troughs

You go to the library a lot as a child; then again if you’re studying; you might have a break until you have your own kids; or decades of barely going, then maybe you lose your job or take up a hobby and return to your library and then it drops off again and then peaks when you retire and have more time and inclination. And that is absolutely fine. It is fine, if you want to save a library that you barely even use, because the point is it should be there when you do want it. None of this Use it Or Lose it rhetoric. I am happy to pay in for education and hospitals for my entire working life knowing I will not always have the need to use them. I don’t pass emergency services and feel annoyed I’m paying for them even though I’ve never been carried out of a burning building or taken to hospital. You should use your library because they are full of brilliant things you might not even realise is there and they allow you to access a vast world of entertainment and information – but if you don’t need or want to it right now, it is still absolutely right that you can access it when you do

Why we need libraries – “outcomes”

This is the Council’s Outcomes budget – last year the council moved from funding services to funding outcomes. It is laid out as a very attractive Venn diagram. You may think when facing hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts, this kind of exercise, is somewhat rearranging the chairs on the titanic. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Right let’s have a look at this – financial security, vibrant and creative town centres, skills to find work, opportunity for better homes, improved health. Yeah we do all that here.

  • Children who go to a library are twice as likely as those who don’t to read well (National Literacy Trust)
  • Oxford University study Teenagers who read for pleasure are much more likely to get a better job when they become adults
  • Libraries encourage a love of reading,  help people access mental health support, help than bid for council houses, help them get the skills they need to get a job and to find work, they promote community cohesion through stigma free universal services…

Literacy changes lives, a National Literacy Trust research paper showed that literacy has tangible relationships with educational attainment, economic well-being, aspirations, family circumstances, physical and mental health as well as civic / cultural participation.

Honestly the amount it costs if you go into hospital, if you need mental health intervention, if you go to prison – everything we do here in this building and in the other nine libraries in this borough- is a bloody bargain.


Even if libraries didn’t achieve all these outcomes. If it didn’t reap massive social benefits in terms of health, education and employment, I’d still be asking you to save our libraries. Because people enjoy reading and we shouldn’t have to justify every moment of our existence and pleasures in life by how much money someone can make or can save. We have the right to a bit of humanity – to find things out, to get lost in stories. Because books are where you can learn to be brave by meeting scary monsters who you can turn the page on; where you learn empathy by having other people’s feeling laid out for you, where you learn the world is not always as it has been and that it can change. What you read and have read, effect the kind of parent, friend or lover you’ll be and teach you all kind of skills you don’t even know you are learning.

Reading is a right. Accessing libraries is a right. Is it a right because it is covered by statutory legislation – maybe. Is it a right because UN enshrines the right to participate in cultural life – possibly.

Much more important than either these – it’s a human right because I said so, and because these people say and because you say so. Like every right in life it’s won by people demanding it and fighting for it with all they have.

So we are here today to work out how to do that…

Barnet libStuart King interviewed Leon from Occupy at an occupied Barnet library

Leon can you tell us the background to the occupation?

Twenty months ago Barnet Council announced their plans to shut the library along with a couple of others in the borough and almost immediately there was massive opposition to it. The Save Friern Barnet Library Group started up. Then in April of this year the Library was given 24 hours notice of shut down. So it happened really quickly.

Within 24 hours there was a sit in for five hours. The security wouldn’t let anybody go to the back to use the toilet and nobody was experienced in sit-ins – they hadn’t come with supplies so they left after a few hours and the library then was shut for five months.

Around the beginning of September a group came in because they’d been reading about the library being shut. They were interested to see if they could start a project where they would occupy and live and the building with part of it used as a library. But because there’s really no space for living here the first thing they did was to contact a couple of people involved in previous Occupy projects and said “listen we’ve just got into this building, its really beautiful, and is really dear to locals hearts.” I’d been watching the campaign getting a lot of coverage in the Guardian, so I came straight away.

So how did you involve the community?

We had a meeting with Save Friern Barnet Library Group. They wanted to meet us because they were getting strange advice from their legal advisers, like if they came in they’d be liable for court costs. The two Labour Councillors in this ward have been really supportive here. They didn’t want to step over the line at the beginning but once they realised the legal advice was a bit of overkill a lot of people got involved.

So that happened around the 5th Sept. On the 7th we opened for the first day. The locals had been holding pop up libraries outside so they held it inside and the process began. We started meeting with the library campaign. With the occupiers there was four or five of us at the time. We had a real desire to not let our own agenda take over at all. Just to see if we could mobilise what was happening here as much as possible.

There was already a Borough wide campaign?

There was a Save the Library Campaign, and also a very strong local campaign, the Barnet Alliance for Public Services, against the councils One Barnet programme. This plans to privatise a huge amount of public services and a lot of those people came in.

Barnet Alliance have been helping here since the beginning and we’ve tried to develop a relationship. Some of them came down to when we were occupying at St Pauls. I didn’t know any of them then but there’s been an actual affinity between the caretaker occupiers here and Barnet Alliance. We’re on the same page on a lot of issues.

Also a lot of new people came in from the near vicinity of this Library. At first they were a little bit wary of what the squatters in the library were going to be like. But when they met us and they saw what our intentions were we kicked it off quite quickly.

What we’ve been doing here has been really inspiring, seeing so many people come through the doors, to meet each other. Even people that have been campaigning in Barnet on different issues, we have been providing a space for people to come together, organise and share things.

So what has been the council’s response?

Within a week we had legal papers served from the council and they wanted us out. They didn’t like the idea at all. Even though the building was being left empty. It probably won’t be sold for another year at least if they get their way, but they wanted us out as soon as possible.

The papers were delivered I think around 17 September. On 9 November, the Judge said this is a big trial, we need up to two days and gave us court dates 17-18 December. So that’s where we are legally now.

So people sleep here permanently. Is there always someone in the building and a system to alert people?

Yes we try to keep about four permanent people here. We have a text alert telephone tree. It’s not really a telephone tree, its just lots of numbers that we can send one text to all of them but we don’t have to worry about that here. We’re safe until after the court case.

Barnet Lib 2

You’ve got thousands of books here, where did they all come from?

All donated, we reckon it’s between 8-10,000. Most have been donated from the local area and we’ve had two groups outside of the area donate. We’ve had three computers donated as well, and financial donations that have enabled us to print off leaflets and flyers.

The way its worked is we set up working groups at the beginning so we sort of split off into outreach events, proposals and caretaking – just to make sure that the project wasn’t just controlled by the people who were sleeping in the building. It made sure that the people that wanted to get involved had power to make decisions over what happened at the library.

Is there an overarching committee or campaign? Do you see it as a problem running a “community Library” without paid staff or council finance?

Yes we have an assembly on Mondays where we discuss, we feedback from outreach events and the proposals group and we discuss where we are at the moment and what things we should be doing.

The Proposals Group works on a proposal to present to the council. There’s a community bid, and the other approach is that the council should reopen and fund it as well. As you say it has caused a little bit of controversy. The Council’s pulling money out of the library, do we want to be replacing that by volunteers? And in one sense the answer’s “No”, but I think people don’t have a problem with working to keep open a library, but they do have a problem with working to save a council that doesn’t care about services so its trying to find a balance.

It is a problem. In Lambeth for example they are trying to turn at least one library into a community library which means cutting the funding and giving people grants which are much lower than the original budget. Then they say “over to you” for the community to run it with no long-term commitment at all. This means they are basically gradually offloading services on to the community to provide. They call it the “Cooperative Council” in Lambeth. Cameron calls “the Big Society”. But in Barnet they’re actually trying to sell the libray building aren’t they?

Yes they want to raise money. They want to sell the building and there’s a rumour that they also want to sell the green spaces either side in a package deal to a developer so that will probably by pushing on £1 million. The building’s just been locally listed a week ago but it doesn’t really stop them from selling it on but it’s just something else to help.

So what do you think is going to happen at the court case on 17-18 December?

It’s very up in the air. With these kind of cases where it seems obvious to anyone who looks at the situation that we’re in the right. If its just down to a point of law, whose the rightful owner of the land, we don’t really have much of a case. We’re never going to win the case that we are the rightful owners but what we can do is delay and one of the things that the council hasn’t sufficiently done is prove that they actually own the land. The deeds that they provided are very old, very sketchy. We’re also going to challenge the fact that they say they didn’t give us a licence to stay here. Because they met with us time and time again. Gave us different options. They were very keen on getting us into the Arts Depot round the corner and getting us to start a library up there and so they entered into negotiations from day one. That really is an implied licence as far as we’re concerned.

But I think the key is really to see if we can get it delayed for another several months and really pressure the council to put forward a reasonable proposal. The community are already thinking of putting in a community right to buy and the Save Friern Barnet Library Group are still pressuring the council to reopen it and I think its good that both strategies are explored because it is a wonderful building

The council cabinet was occupied this week wasn’t it? When they tried to push through the One Barnet plan?

Yes that happened a couple of days ago, Thursday. It was

the first part of the One Barnet programme outsourcing to Capita. They’re not 100% sure because they haven’t read the contract but it looks about a £320 million contract given to Capita to run a lot of services. The entire thing is £1 billion. But the £320 million to Capita was voted through on Thursday night.

What happened was that there were public questions from residents. The questions were avoided in the usual manner by councilors and towards the end the residents decided that, in their words, it wasn’t a democratic process and they decided to take over the room where the meeting was being held. The councillors had to leave and go into another room and a forum was held by protesters.

There was a big discussion on what the next steps should be. What demands Barnet Alliance should put on the council and what kind of direct action. It was quite inspiring. I was there, it was really beautiful to watch because it’s been a campaign that’s gone from very classical kind, using petitions, lobbying politicians etc to taking direct action and really upping the ante a little bit.

So 17-18 December court case is a really the crucial date?

Yes. Even if we lose we can appeal so we’re definitely here for Christmas unless the judge doesn’t give a stay of execution which would be surprising. But we want a lot of people to come out on 17th and 18th to support our fight. We could have hundreds outside the court house which is going to make a big impression. Although they don’t make any difference in law they do tend to sway the magistrates’ opinion on how they’re going to deal with the case.

Further information from:
On Barnet campaign from:


Please join us for a Keep Libraries Public Lobby

                 Monday 21 November
                 Lambeth Town Hall, 6.30pm

On Monday 21 November the Council’s Cabinet will vote on the
Libraries Commission Report which will shape the future of Lambeth

The document recommends:

  • Library closures
  • Moving from a public library service to services run by small interest groups
  • Budget cuts

We must protect our libraries from cuts and closures. We must force the council to invest in books and buildings and staff to make a library service that Lambeth deserves.

Click here for the Library_Leaflet, we hope to see you there!

Today Lambeth Save Our Services supported the Friends of Libraries groups and Lambeth UNISON at a Save Libraries protest in Brixton. Children drew a beautiful Save Our Libraries picture in chalk on Windrush Square and a balloon was released for each letter of the alphabet. Speeches about the importance of libraries were made by Tim O’Dell the local Unison rep, Toby Litt a local author, Vanessa Wood Chair of Friends of Brixton library and members of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group.

The library door says ‘we welcome you to society’

[Toby Litt, local author]

The protest was well attended and had a lovely atmosphere with children playing and home-made banners. Letters to councillors were busily drafted and testimonials gathered to teach the council the value the people of Lambeth feel libraries add to the community.

After the speeches a large group of the protestors went into the library, picked up a book and began reading. There was not enough room so most simply sat on the floor. Having never been to a ‘Read In’ before I have to admit there was something pretty magical about it.

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