About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Friday, 6 November 2015

Not the place for physical jerks: Lambeth's plans for libraries would get Carnegie spinning in his steely grave

Here's a community hub if you want one - the Carnegie Library on Herne Hill Road. Can you seriously imagine this being turned into a gym?
There's little doubt that the library-building philanthropist Andrew Carnegie will be spinning in his grave over Lambeth Council's policy on public libraries - which basically involves turning the magnificent library he part-funded on Herne Hill Road into a gym with a few books and PCs in the lobby.

Lots of angry words have already been written about this policy, which was sprung on Lambeth residents  in October and now has council approval. Read the response of the Friends of Carnegie Library for a fair summing up of the dissenting view. The scheme, as it stands, would bring in the sporty social entrepreneurs, GLL (Greenwich Leisure Ltd) to run these new "healthy living centres". Fine, if you agree this building should be turned into a gym. But it is a library, always has been, always should be. It was given to the residents of Herne Hill on the condition that it should always be a library.

Tomorrow (Saturday 7 November) there's to be a protest march and demonstration starting at Brixton Library in Windrush Square at 10.30am, and ending at the Tate South Lambeth Library where the councillor who cooked up the scheme, Jane Edbrooke, will be holding a surgery.

The Minet Library in Knatchbull Road, by Myatt's Fields park, would also be turned into what the Brixton Buzz is calling a "bookish gym" under the scheme. In all cases, the  "health and fitness services" will be offered by that same GLL. As for the library bit - well, that would be a sideline, a few  books for your kids to flick through while you pump iron. Worse still, this bit would be run by volunteers. Professional librarians? No, they're just so out of fashion, dear. We want personal trainers, not librarians!

So - not only do they plan to reduce community resources, they're also cutting jobs. Referring to Lambeth's own  Q & A on its so-called  Culture 2020 library plans, we find this: "...it is reasonable to assume that given the level of cuts in revenue this will lead to a reduction of approximately 25 per cent of the current workforce. That would include vacancies remaining unfilled and other staff losses. However the redesigned library services would potentially also be likely to create new job opportunities…"

Apart from being a redundant idea – how many privately-run gyms do we already have in Lambeth? – it's also an outrage from a borough which has always professed to be passionate about education and community. It might have started as a way to raise new funds in the face of savage cuts from central government - but now it seems like an absurd squandering of resources, designed chiefly to alienate library users of each and every ward.
"Anyone who loves and values and uses libraries, or who
has children who use them, should go on this demo. 

Libraries uniquely provide an oasis of quiet and calm for anyone who needs it - whether they be school kids revising for GCSEs or OAPs seeking a little warmth and company. Go to most Lambeth libraries at any time of day, and you'll find most of the desk and table space is taken up - certainly during term-time.

Anyone who loves and values and uses libraries, or who has children who use them, should go on this demo.  In fact everyone should go, because Lambeth's  remaining libraries provide an amazing service which goes way beyond maintaining collections of books, multimedia and periodicals.

On the way to Herne Hill's Carnegie Library
On the way to the library,  a reminder of the affection
this place inspires in the leafy suburb of Herne Hill
But let's get back to the Carnegie Library in  Herne Hill. It's an ornate, Grade 2 listed building, in that 1900s red-brick, municipal arts and crafts style.  Even before you get there you can tell how much this place means to the local community.

It features on the decorative banners strung up (presumably paid for by the council?) on lampposts by hernehill.org, just to remind you where you are.

There's even a sign pointing to the library in the front window of a house round the corner - presumably to help lost Carnegie tourists.

Go inside it's just what you hope your local library will be: a beautiful space, huge windows, a lovely worn-down parquet floor. And books, books, books, books.

Yes, but they also have an exhibition room and they hold all manner of community events and classes - including yoga, pilates and other health-related sessions. At very low prices. Did Lambeth put all this into its pipe and smoke it, before coming up with this frankly crackpot scheme?

Now for Andrew Carnegie himself, the steel magnate, union basher and robber baron. OK, he was a monster capitalist, but later on he did his best to make amends in his philanthropy.

Yoga classes, pilates classes, etc…seems the Herne Hill library already
does plenty for health and fitness in the community...
Herne Hill is one of over 2,000 libraries round the world he wholly or partially funded.  In this case, he gave the council £12,500 in 1902 for building the library, midway between Herne Hill and Denmark Hill stations.

Carnegie was eager that his libraries should remain free to use in perpetuity, and should also adhere to certain standards. His libraries had strict rules, some of which still apply at the biggest of these institutions, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (the city was the centre of his steel business).

There, they warn against any "Disorderly, disruptive or boisterous conduct" and insist that "Customers are expected to maintain an acceptable standard of personal hygiene".

So, perhaps they are being a little exclusive? They are not keen on an influx of sweaty, boisterous types, and they also make it clear that "Shirts and shoes must be worn at all times".


Again, for the full story of Mr Carnegie's deal with Lambeth back in 1902, go the Friends' website - where you'll see he was also concerned that they should guarantee their ability to maintain this building as a public library, out of public funds, for as long as it bears his name.

Meanwhile, visit these libraries if you can, as often as you can, and come on the demo. But try not to break into too much of a sweat….

No comments:

Post a Comment