Just stop it. Think again and try something else.

I am so angry….

It looks like Lambeth Council, my local council, are trying to close eight libraries in the Borough. Two of these are to be closed completely and the other six handed over to local volunteer groups for them to run, but, if there are no suitable volunteers, these libraries will close too.

And what is Lambeth going to do with the empty buildings? Lambeth want to sell off the library buildings they close to become gyms. Great plan. So needed. Not….. Closing our libraries would be terrible for the Borough. Such a backwards step. There are only ten libraries in Lambeth so, if eight of them are closed, we would be left with just two libraries for the whole Borough.  Over 300,000 people using just two libraries. What a joke.

It could, of course, be argued that, with the advent of E-books and devices such as Kindle, libraries have had their day and that closing them would be a good idea. I beg to differ. Let me be honest from the outset. My first degree was in Librarianship and Information studies so I am somewhat biased however, but in my opinion, E-books can NEVER fully replace print. There is something about the feel and the smell and the pure physicality of a printed book that an E-book will never be able to replicate. Not to mention the fact that, whilst there are E-book libraries, you have to be a member of a standard library to use them.

But, there is so much more to libraries than just books.

My nearest library, the Carnegie, is a local resource that cannot be easily replaced. Our local history group uses the library for meetings and for exhibitions and lectures about this part of South East London. Toddler and pre-school groups meet in the library every week to introduce small children to the wonderful world of books and story-telling. School children and students use the library every day for doing their homework. We also live in an area with a high child poverty level and where a lot of houses are legally overcrowded so many local teenagers use the library to do their schoolwork because their homes are too cramped and noisy for them to be able to work effectively. In addition to this, they are able to use the library computers and the internet because they don’t have computers at home. And it’s not just younger people who need our library. Job-hunters use the library computers to access employment agency sites and make online job applications. They use them for printing out application forms and for writing and printing CVs. Older and disabled people use the library for social events and just as somewhere to meet new people and have a cup of tea with friends. The nearest library that will be remaining open is too far away for people with mobility difficulties to use easily. Public transport in the area is not brilliant and buses are irregular and crowded. Libraries are needed and are widely used.

But there is more to it than that. My local library is now used by several start-up companies which rent office space there. The money that is paid in rent by those companies is being used to buy new book stock for the library and to pay some of the staff wages. If the library is closed and converted into a gym, where will these companies go? South-East London entrepreneurs will be stifled and will go to other Boroughs with a more forward thinking attitude. Lambeth will loose the best and the brightest.

And then there are the other libraries Lambeth wants to close. The Minet Library, another prospective gym, holds the Lambeth Archive. This is a such a valuable local resource. People who are tracing their family trees, people who are interested in local history, people who want to see how this part of South East London has changed and developed over the centuries need to use this library.  Two of the libraries earmarked for closure are very important in their own right. They are two of the oldest public libraries in the entire country. The Main library in Brixton, is the oldest public library in the UK and the Carnegie, my local library, is the second. Nationally important buildings and the council wants to turn them into gyms.

Lambeth needs to think again and not go through with their plans. Closing the Borough’s libraries is not the answer. I recognise that money needs to be saved but there must be other ways of doing this. Libraries are lively, vibrant, important local resources. We want them, we love them and we need them. Leave our libraries alone Lambeth and try something else for a change. Stop trying to take our libraries away from us.

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