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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.

Great.

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.

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I am angry. I am very angry. I need to get confirmation of what I have just been told but, if it really is the case, then I am very angry indeed.

To cut a long story short, last year, my local authority, Lambeth, decided in it’s infinite wisdom, that it would close my local library, the Carnegie, in Herne Hill, SE London, in order to convert the basement into a gym and have a much reduced library on the ground floor, with no professional library staff available or, at least, only available for a short period every week. On February 8th the Council, in it’s infinite wisdom, approved the plans, which will now be implemented.

As a wheelchair user, access was never amazing but, by dint of ringing a bell at the bottom of the steps to the main entrance, at least a member of the library staff would come out, help you through a side entrance to a lift in the basement and up to the main library area. Not ideal but at it worked. I have just asked what will happen when the basement is converted into a gym. Would we still be able to access the lift. I have been told that wheelchair access will, in future, be via a ‘circuitous stairway route’!

Well friends, what part of ‘stairway’ and ‘wheelchair’ won’t work do we think?

Could it be that, as I am not a dalek with an amazing ability to levitate, I, and other disabled and older people with mobility issues, will NOT BE ABLE TO GET IN AT ALL?

Discrimination anyone?

Of course, I am fully aware of the fact that there are other options available to me, such as a home library service where someone brings my choice of books to me but, and in my opinion, its not the same thing. Whilst, of course, a home delivery scheme has it’s merits for a lot of people, it’s not, in my opinion, the same thing at all.

Half of the fun of going to the library is having the ability to browse the shelves and find new books and authors you never knew about. There is nothing like pulling a book off the shelf, purely because it has an engaging title, reading the blurb on the back and the author’s biog on one of the inner flaps and thinking ‘This looks interesting, maybe I’ll give it a try.’ I really cannot count the number of times, over the years, that this has happened to me. Many of those books now rank amongst my favourite reads of all time and without the ability to browse the library shelves I might never have found them.  

Then there’s another important issue that also needs thinking about, apart from he issue of access for disabled people.

There are already three gyms, with swimming pools, in the immediate area as well as a large park over the road and another, even larger park, fifteen minutes walk away in the centre of Herne Hill itself. Why, exactly, do we need another gym? Has anyone ever given any of us an answer to that? Not only that but, as far as I am aware, Lambeth has not done any form of impact assessment for the people living in the streets surrounding the library building. The library is in a residential area, with two busy primary schools in the immediate vicinity, and the majority of the streets surrounding the building are Controlled Parking Zones with daytime parking restrictions because of those schools. In the evenings these same streets are where residents park their cars after work, outside their own homes. There is no space for gym users to use. There are no car parks nearby and no room for one to be built. So where would Lambeth Council suggest that gym users should park their cars? Any ideas?

And then there is the noise issue. As I have already said, the library building, where the gym will be, is in a residential area where families with young children and older people live. It is a quiet area. The people who live nearby are not going to welcome any disturbance and disruption in the evening caused by the noise made by gym users leaving the building, getting into their cars and driving away after their fitness sessions.   

It is very clear that this plan has still not been properly thought through and that, yet again, Lambeth have jumped in, feet first, without considering the cost and the consequences for local residents.

Let me reiterate. We do not need another gym. You can keep it. We do not need gym users causing noise and disruption. You can keep them too. What we need is our library. We want to keep that. A gym will only make things worse for Council Tax payers and residents in the area. Please Lambeth Council, give us back our much loved and much used library and stop trying to make a fast buck on the side. If you ignore us and our wishes, let me tell you, when the next Council elections come round, we will not forget and we will not forgive.   

I have been been gently fuming for a couple of weeks now.

My anger has been like a slow burning fuse on a pile of dynamite and now I am ready to explode.

If you have been reading or watching the local and national news over the past two or three weeks you may have seen stories about a local library in South East London that was scheduled for closure by the Local Authority and was therefore occupied by local people for several days in protest at that closure.

Well, that was my local library. If I hadn’t been stuck in bed due to my impairment, I would have been there too but I wasn’t able to take part in that bit of the protest, much to my chagrin. However, that doesn’t mean I did nothing. I might not be able to protest physically any more but I can do it in words. Writing is what I do best so I wrote. My contribution to the fight was to send letters voicing my concerns to local Councillors and MPs asking them to stop what they were doing and reconsider. I wrote to all three to my councillors, only one responded, I wrote to my MP who sent me a nice but largely ineffective email back, I wrote to members of the Greater London Authority who didn’t bother replying to me at all and I wrote to my MEP who ignored me. All the protests, the marches, the occupation, the petitions and the letters were disregarded and ignored and the library ended up being closed.

But the fight goes on.

The closure of the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill was part of a programme of library closures planned and orchestrated by Lambeth Council. The idea seems to be that we will get a lovely, but unwanted and unneeded, new gym, with a bookshelf in the corner, and no Library staff whatsoever. Lambeth Council are hellbent on getting us to exercise our bodies whilst ignoring the importance of exercising the mind.

How short-sighted. How wrong and how short-sighted.

But that’s not the thing that’s angered me the most about the whole situation. No whilst I am incensed by the library’s closure, the thing that has rattled my cage and prompted my ire, and this blog, is the email I received from one of my Ward Councillors in response to my letter of protest.

Councillor Jack Holborn, Labour, informed me, in an email,  that: ‘If we specially exempted the library service from any cuts, more would have to come from the big areas of the budget, such as looking after older people, or council tax support for the poorest.’

How dare he!

How dare he try tugging on heartstrings by implying that it was the library or services for the most vulnerable in the Borough that had to go! He was obviously trying to make me feel guilty about wanting to put books over people. Well, I am a severely disabled person and a qualified Librarian and what he has written will not wash with me. I find it despicable.

Libraries are not just about books, libraries are about people too. Libraries are places people visit to find information about local groups and services. Libraries are places where local groups such as local historians, and preschool story-telling groups can meet. Libraries are places where schoolchildren can work. Libraries are places parents can take their children, secure in the knowledge that there are people there who can help them to learn. Libraries are places where students can do research for their exams and assignments. Libraries are places where people can access computers and the internet if don’t have that facility at home and where everyone can receive professional guidance should they need it. How dare Councillor Holborn try to imply in his response that, by wanting to save all that and so much more, I was not concerned about local people. I am very concerned about local people Mr Holborne and, what concerns me the most, is the fact that they, and I, am currently represented by someone who would dare to try playing such tricks with my heart and mind and think he could get away with it. Well, it didn’t work. You failed. Jack Holborne, please rest assured that there is one voter here who will never be voting for you again. I would never be able to put my trust in someone who has the nerve to try to do what you have done. Implying that I don’t care about disabled and older people and poorer people was a step too far. I would never be able to trust anyone who believes they can get away with doing that. 

You’ve lost me.

Bye-bye.

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.