Guess who’s angry again? Yup, you got it, ME!
I don’t know how many people will remember last year, when I got seriously angry about the closure of my local Library, the Carnegie Library, in Herne Hill, South London. Well, we’ve had some good news at last. After a year with no service whatsoever, we’ve got it back! The Carnegie Library has reopened! There has been much celebratory coverage of this in the papers and on local TV News programmes. The Head of the Council has been doing the smiley, happy, noddy thing for the cameras again and everything in the garden is wonderful! We have access to our books once more! Lovely. Whoop-de-do!!!!!
Except, it’s not lovely. Well, not lovely for everyone anyway. There is now no access to the Library available for wheelchair users, or people with mobility impairments, or for some older people, or for all those people who cannot climb the many, steep stone steps up to the main Library entrance. We have been excluded. Admittedly, access never was great but it used to be, at least, be possible. There was a bell at the bottom of the steps you could ring to alert the Librarians to your presence and then, one of them would come out to you, accompany you round to a side entrance and let you in so you could use a small lift to the main library, but that isn’t there any more. As I say, it wasn’t ideal but it was, at least, possible to get in to choose your own books or to do some research or to find information about local amenities or to do anything else Library related you wanted to do. But no longer. Now, that access has gone. Lambeth Council, in its infinite wisdom, seems to think that what the people of Herne Hill REALLY want is a much smaller, inaccessible Library and, yet another blinking gym. The entrance we used to use in order to access the lift is now the entrance to the building site that will become the gym, there is, no longer, a lift available and there is no alternative entrance for us.
According to our wonderful Council, the Library that was gifted to the people of Herne Hill by Andrew Carnegie, opened in 1906, and loved and used by local people, young and old alike, for more than a century, is no longer needed. What we all REALLY want is a gym and a much-reduced, inaccessible, Library service. Sure, the library will, for now, at least, be open to some people, for short periods, but not for everyone. People with mobility impairments get left outside, in the cold, the wind and the rain. Many people who used the Library regularly will now not be able to get in at all. And, for those people who can gain access, we don’t get a full-time Librarian the way we used to, we get a member of the Gym staff instead. And some security guards. And a phone to the Librarian in Brixton. So, if you can get in at all, and you are looking for a specific book or for some essential information, or for any sort of help whatsoever, you have use a phone to have a Librarian a couple of miles away, tell you which book you want, what shelf it’s on and what it looks like. Now that’s going to work all fine and dandy – NOT. I am a qualified Librarian myself. I spent three years at University training for my qualification. No-one will convince me that an untrained member of staff from the gym and a phone will be able to cope for longer than a day or two. And don’t even get me started on access for people with hearing impairments who can’t use phones at all. You won’t like it.
No. I think that this so-called grand ‘re-opening’ is not a true re-opening. We, the people of Herne Hill, have been sold a pup. Given that there are Local Government Elections less than three months away in May, I am pretty convinced that this ‘re-opening’ is little more than a cynical pre-election publicity stunt. The people of Herne Hill want their wonderful Community Amenity back the way it used to be and we don’t want a gym. What we want a full-time, fully staffed, fully accessible library full of books and dvds and local information and local interest groups and joy and love and laughter. If you want us to consider giving you our vote, give us back the Library Andrew Carnegie gave to us and we’ll think about it.
And please would you make sure that it is fully accessible to all of us who want to use it.