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

Thursday, 31 March 2016

All strength to the Carnegie Library occupiers - and shame on cloth-eared Lambeth council

Big protest on the last official day of Herne Hill's Carnegie Library turned into a sit-in

No, sadly it wasn't an April Fool's joke, but thanks to the brave and brilliant 80 or so people who locked themselves inside Herne Hill's Carnegie Library last night, Lambeth council's dismal scheme to turn this and other libraries into gyms is once again under  close media scrutiny.

A London borough council is supposed to be responsive to the views of its electorate, and to do its best to protect their interests.

For the past year or two, on the subject of libraries (not to mention housing estate regeneration)  Lambeth is doing precisely the opposite of this,  the opposite of serving its public.

This is a council that is planning to turn two of its best loved libraries - the Carnegie and the Minet at Myatt's Fields, both of which were donated by philanthropists to the people of this borough over a century ago - into gyms, so-called "healthy living centres" where you'll pay to get a bit of physical exercise. And to close another two.

So much love for Carnegie Library, Herne Hill - closed down by Lambeth council, occupied by its usersThat is to take away four of the 10 libraries that  are currently struggling to cope with demand of the borough's library users.

The anger this "culture 2020" policy has provoked can hardly have surprised the council. We've all been  marching and shouting and petitioning everyone possible about it for  the past year or so.

Each time they turn that big deaf ear to the protests they raise everyone's  determination to resist and overturn the bonkers gym idea.

So when, at 6pm, March 31 2016,  the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill was supposed to have closed its doors for good, and instead, dozens of users of this amazing library staged an occupation, what did they do? They called in the cops , of course.

Thing is, even the police only need to take one look at the beautiful Carnegie Library building to understand that the gym idea is not only absurd, but also immoral. As soon as you entered this library you realised it was a well-loved place. I mean, how many public libraries in London have their own "Reading and Wildlife Garden"?

Carnegie Library, Herne Hill - closed down by Lambeth council, occupied by its users
The Carnegie is a beautiful place, designed  for a specific purpose, to be a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can  read, study, and learn in peace;  where people can share their love for books and literature and storytelling and information-giving. It has always offered more in the way of extra, volunteer-led activities for a huge range of interest groups, from toddlers to yoga freaks to chess players, than  almost any other library I have visited.

It even had a large exhibition space, which helped launched the careers of many local artists and photographers.

And what does the council say?

"Changes to Carnegie Library"

So, they suggest Carnegie Herne Hill users should try Brixton Central or West Norwood libraries instead. Good advice? Maybe not.

The clue is in the word, "Hill". The Herne Hill library is up on high, it serves a large area of residential streets, young families with young children in pushchairs,  also lots of elderly local residents.

 Lambeth tells them to get down to Brixton centre, then back up again? And when they get there, where will they sit?

Carnegie Library, Herne Hill - closed down by Lambeth council, occupied by its users
Or all the way down, then up again, to West Norwood Library, which is itself in temporary accommodation? Is Lambeth going to offer free bus passes to this displaced group of library users, or a taxi service?

It's all worse than insulting! (And I am not even a regular Carnegie Library user, can't you tell? But I am a Lambeth council tax payer, and I am disgusted by the way they treat so many of their electorate as though they were naughty children, and then carry on perfecting their vanity projects).

Now the council has even admitted it doesn't have a detailed plan on how it will convert this building into a gym. Look at those beautiful parquet floors, then imagine how they will bolt down those absurd stationary bicycles you see in gyms. There's now talk of using the cellar, involving as lot of excavation and possibly the destruction of the garden. Just think of the costs.

It's all very well saying this. I'd be saying it even if the Carnegie were an ordinary public library. Thing is it's a very special place, but the tragedy is you won't be able to experience its magic again unless…unless the brave action of yesterday evening's occupiers finally makes this cloth-eared council listen, just for once!

The following pics, I hope,  show a bit of the passion of those defending this wonderful place, and a bit  of what you and me and all of us will lose if the council's plans for converting this place into a "bookish gym" actually go through.

The wildlife and reading garden at the Herne Hill Carnegie Library

Carnegie's staff and friends ensured that the library, if it had to close, would close with a bang or two, and not a whimper…and predicted that the closure would not be  permanent

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