|So new they haven't finished the paving yet: Camberwell Library is in the London Borough of Southwark, but only|
about 100 yards from the border with Lambeth, where libraries face closure or conversion into gyms
Talk about greener grass and fences and so on, but while Lambeth's library-loving residents are battling a council plan to turn three of their libraries into gyms, so a brand new library with some 27,000 real books and other media is opened just a few yards from the borough's border, in lovely Camberwell.
The new Camberwell library was opened on November 4, treating residents to an elegant, light-filled, dedicated building on the east side of Camberwell Green. There are no expensive flats above, no mini-supermarket embedded within the building.
It's not a showy statement building like Peckham library just down the road - an award-winning design by architect Will Alsop, built in 1999 – but it doesn't need to be. It's a pleasing, warm, functional space filled with books on shelves, computers on desks, and people using them.
Cross the road, walk up Denmark Hill, and you'll soon get to Herne Hill's Carnegie Library which is one of the three earmarked for changing into "Healthy Living Centres". But the Carnegie is in Lambeth. Camberwell, like Peckham, is in the borough of Southwark.
A week ago, 600 of Lambeth residents marched from Brixton to the Tate South Lambeth library to express their dislike of these plans. Especially to the councillor behind the scheme, one Jane Eddington, who was inside the TSL Library at the time the demo arrived. But she was not willing to meet them, nor to discuss things further - as has been pretty much the case throughout. Lambeth seems determined to press on with these salt-rubbing-into-wound style cuts regardless of what its council-tax-paying, vote-casting, library-loving residents think.
So what is Southwark doing that Lambeth isn't? How can it build new libraries while Lambeth wants to close beautiful and much loved gems of the public library movement?
Is Southwark taxing its residents more? Is it cutting other services more deeply? Is it running up a huge debt? It's not actually doing any of these things to any significant extent. Both boroughs are under heavy central government pressure to reduce spending.
|The former Camberwell Library occupied two old shops, where it had been|
since a much grander old building was destroyed by bombs during
the London blitz.
Both boroughs are Labour controlled, though both have had Lib Dem coalitions in the past. Southwark has more surviving council housing (in fact it has the highest amount of all London boroughs) but both boroughs have been criticised for selling off prime sites to private developers.
They both have similar annual budgets of around £320million. They even look like mirror images of each other on a map.
But in terms of priorities, it seems they are as different as possible. Or am I missing something?
Next step: There's a public meeting on the Carnegie Library's future at 7pm tonight, 16th November, details here.