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

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Save Lambeth Libraries march defies lousy weather and crazy policies: ALL TEN libraries must be defended!

Can you hear us, Lambeth Council? Can you read? Save Lambeth Libraries marchers outside Tate South Lambeth Library, Saturday March 5 2016.

"No ifs!  No buts!  No Lambeth Library Cuts!"

It was the same chant, on a march with many of the same people, but also plenty of new people, on the same route - from the Central Brixton Tate Library in Windrush Square, to the Tate South Lambeth Library in Vauxhall - for the same cause - as the first Save Lambeth Libraries march back in November.

The weather was even worse today - just as wet and even colder than on that autumn day - but the emotional climate was different. We're less than a month away from the proposed closure of two of the
Best banner of the day? Says it all, really.
borough's best-loved libraries, and despite an 11th hour U-turn on the plans for Tate South Lambeth and Upper Norwood Libraries, the "bookish gym" madness is still very much what Lambeth intends to push through at Herne Hill's Carnegie and the Minet Library on the Brixton-Camberwell border.

We've had four months of protests and action in between, in an imaginative and well orchestrated campaign, but a campaign which for a lot of the time seemed to be meeting a solid grey wall of indifference at the level of Lambeth council.

At some of the meetings, you actually got the feeling they were sniggering at us for our audacity in using time-honoured democratic protest techniques in response to their newish-Labourish cost-cutting Culture 2020 policy and its follow-up, the proposal to turn three branch libraries into fitness or "Healthy Living" centres with a few books, PCs and wi-fi but no trained library staff.

That is, until yesterday, when (somewhat coincidentally? oh surely not!) a partial climbdown, a semi-U-turn was allowed to slip out. As reported so swiftly on the always excellent Brixton Buzz site, Councillor Jane Edbrooke has decided to spare Tate South Lambeth library from the immediate indignity of having its books and staff replaced by gym equipment.

However, the plan to do just this at the wonderful Carnegie and Minet libraries remains - which was why today's protest was so moving. It was all about solidarity, and the overwhelming message was that Lambeth has 10 libraries - that's not enough perhaps, but we have 10 and we're not going to lose even one of those – particularly not to what has now been described as one of the most crackpot schemes in British local government this century.

Yes, a very good point, libraries do need trained staff. Under Lambeth's
plan, there'd be no full-time professional  librarians at the proposed
'bookish-gyms' to be run by Greenwich Leisure Ltd at the Minet and
Carnegie Libraries
It was great that people from the semi-reprieved Tate South Lambeth and Upper Norwood libraries were there on the march to make clear that they were still part of the campaign.

It was great that, again, there were people from Lewisham, Barnet and Wandsworth libraries voicing their support, and calling for a London-wide or nation-wide save libraries campaign to grow out this grassroots movement.

It was good to see local author Will Self (and his dog) telling us not to get too hung up on the nostalgic joy of books , but to protect the spaces that libraries occupy and the access to information that they offer. He made the obvious link between library closures and gentrification, too - though I think the people who will be snapping up those £1m + flats in the Oval Quarter, Brixton, and Vauxhall will be going to much snazzier gyms than those likely to be offered by GLL.

The real point of the whole events was best made by two people - Laura Swaffield, who has been the lynchpin of this whole campaign since it started (well, in truth that's years ago, as Lambeth has often tried to chip away th eLibrary service when budgets are not balancing, it's easy meat).

She made the point, one that cannot be repeated often enough, that these libraries are - morally speaking at least - not the council's to muck around with. They were all given to the community, not the council, by their various benefactors (yes, see how an earlier generation of corporate monsters gained immortality, the Tates and Carnegies).

That's the truth behind the slogan: "Don't steal our libraries!"

Of course Lambeth's lawyers have had no trouble in dealing with that little inconvenience.

The other great speaker was the chair of the Friends of the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill, Jeffery Doorn. He spoke with passion but also  great precision about what this library does for its community.

The notion of this incredibly popular place (busiest children's library in the borough) being turned into a sort of third-rate gym is shocking. It seems amazing that the very people whose well-paid job it is to protect and improve local amenities are blind to this. The whole building screams, Library! Books! Reading! Scholarship! Learning! Stories! Imagination! Soul!

(To get a really good taste of the place, please check out the short video Save Carnegie Library by Kaatje Jones on YouTube).

It really does look like people are going to have to take direct action to stop this place being ransacked or desecrated on April 1.

That was again the shocking realisation - that the ultimate nonsense everyone has been so energetically trying to avoid - not just by protesting but by offering sensible, worked-though alternatives - is now very unlikely to be stopped. It's not actually the money any more. It's more that too many political careers are at stake.

It was a foul day but a beautiful event, and thanks again to all the brilliant people of the Save Lambeth Libraries and Defend the Ten campaign.

Local author Will Self explains why he opposes plans to turn two of Lambeth's public libraries into gyms
with a few books on the side.

Save Lambeth Libraries march, against threat from Lambeth Council to turn two libraries into gyms,  in Brixton, Saturday 5 March 2016

Don't steal our libraries! Please….

 against threat from Lambeth Council to turn two libraries into gyms,  in Brixton, Saturday 5 March 2016

 against threat from Lambeth Council to turn two libraries into gyms,  in Brixton, Saturday 5 March 2016

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