The battle is on to keep our library – and all Lambeth libraries

On October 12 the cabinet of Lambeth Council rubber stamped the new Culture 2020 report – in raucous scenes, in a location far from the centre of the borough that was too small to admit all those who sought admittance.

That report proposes to close down the library service as currently delivered at all but one of the neighbourhood libraries (Durning, where it is planned to invest £800,000 and bump up annual spending by raising the hours of opening by 40%). Three of the libraries (Carnegie, Minet and TSL) are to become “healthy living centres” , that is gyms with a small library insert – some books, some machines, a few computers and no permanent on-site librarians. There will be no Council funding for this library “service” . Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) will take over and run the buildings, with a peppercorn rent for a 25-year period.

The opposition begins

The Friends groups at the threatened libraries, who had received no sort of notice of the profound alterations envisaged from the Culture 2020 proposals that were put out to public consultation in February-April, have begun a broad-based challenge, both as individual groups and via a campaign led by the umbrella group, Friends of Lambeth Libraries (FOLL), whose aim is to preserve all public libraries in Lambeth.

Friends of TSL are fully engaged in this challenge. At the Council meeting on October 12 our representative, Helen Holmes, outlined our objections:

the lack of space to continue community cultural activities

the dismissal of the alternative proposal for library services in Lambeth

the legal status of library buildings: can they be turned into gyms?

the choice of GLL to manage the gym

proposed interim library plans: £800,000 spend to make Durning a “better” library

Her arguments are echoed by other Friends groups, who via FOLL will be:

questioning the legality of selecting GLL without evidence of any bidding process,

challenging the claim that there is no money available to retain the neighbourhood libraries,

insisting that the proposal from library managers for a charitable trust to run all libraries (rejected in the Culture 2020 report ) be made public

demanding a public consultation on this totally new set of policies.

Two meetings to make the case

Representatives of Friends groups will be putting their arguments at a public meeting on Monday October 19 at 7pm at Minet Library, to be addressed by Kate Hoey, MP for the Vauxhall constituency and a long-established supporter of our libraries.

Two days before, on Saturday October 17, from 2 to 4pm, the library public forum at TSL will give the public a chance to hear about and question the proposed policies. Two councillors from Oval ward ( Claire Holland and Jack Hopkins) and one from Stockwell (Imogen Walker) will attend. But neither Councillor Jane Edbrooke ( who is responsible for libraries) nor Council officers who drew up the policy will be there.

The forthcoming contest on the choice of fifth town centre library

Friends of TSL have always argued that all the neighbourhood libraries should be maintained, and that the town centre model (where resources and services are concentrated in a few sites central to hypothetical “towns” throughout Lambeth) does not provide a comprehensive, accessible library service.

However the Council has pitched TSL into a battle with Durning Library for designation as town centre library for the north of the borough. The Council has interpreted the response to the question in the public consultation which asked people if they approved of the selection of TSL as town centre library for the north as evidence of a preference for Durning. However neither Durning nor any other library was presented as an option. Yet the fact that rather more people disapproved (31%) than approved (24%), while a significant number (28%) expressed no opinion, has been taken by Council officers as a vote for Durning. Not of course the case. Yet the Culture 2020 report puts the deselection of TSL down to its greater suitability for conversion to a gym – a completely new policy.

As the Durning selection represents a completely new proposal the Council has recognised that it must go to public consultation. The new Culture 2020 states that a four-week consultation on this issue is to take place in November. So no action can be taken beforehand to convert TSL into a gym – or to start work at Durning.

Friends of TSL are currently seeking clarification on what form the consultation will take. We are keen to set out, and have evaluated, our argument that TSL has a better case to be promoted to town centre status.

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