Protestors have staged a sit-in at Herne Hill's Carnegie Library in a determined bid to keep it open.
Lambeth Council had planned to close Carnegie Library for a year last night (31st March) in order to turn it into a “healthy living centre” but campaigners refused to leave the building and remain there this morning (1st April).
Campaigner Stuart King who is part of the Friends of the Library group, is one of the protesters still in the library. He told The Bookseller that the campaigners intended to remain in the building for “as long as it takes for the council to see sense.”
“It’s going really well", King said. "We had a 130 people here last night and 30 to 40 people who stayed overnight. We’re keeping the library open by occupying it. We don’t know how long we’re going to be here, we’re just taking it one day at a time. We’re hoping to put enough pressure on them to change their minds.”
He added: “This is a beautiful grade two listed building and they’re talking about ripping out the basement and making it into a gym. It’s terrible. This isn’t just a library, it’s a community hub – a place for all different kinds of people to come together.”
A spokesperson for the stay-in protestors said: “This is not Lambeth Council’s library to close after 110 years, it belongs to the locality. We are staying here to publicise just what Lambeth’s Labour council is doing to our local libraries – ripping the heart out of them to turn them into unwanted gyms.”
The protestors have demanded that the council keep all Lambeth libraries fully open with professional library staff; the scrap the plans for closures and healthy living centres, and reverse their decision, re-open the Carnegie and Minet Libraries with immediate effect, with all library staff and to adopt the community/staff mutual plan which will keep all ten libraries fully operational as part of a full library service for the borough.
The council plans to turn both Carngie and Minet libraries over to Greenwich Leisure Limited to be transformed into "healthy living centres". The council also proposed transforming Tate South Lambeth library into a gym and Durning Library into a town centre library, but axed these plans after a public consultation. The library service in Waterloo will be moved from its current location to the nearby Oasis Centre.
The town centre libraries in Brixton, Streatham, West Norwood and Clapham will stay open as well as Upper Norwood Library which is jointly funded by Croydon Council.
Before the sit-in at Carnegie Library, candle-lit vigils were held at both Carnegie and Minet Libraries.
Jeff Doorn, Chair of Friends of Carnegie Library, said: "Our Carnegie Library has provided the light of learning and inspiration for nearly 110 years. The vigil will be a fitting way to express our gratitude, as well as our determination not to let the light be extinguished."
Cllr Jane Edbrooke, Lambeth Council cabinet member for neighbourhoods, previously told The Bookseller: “We value libraries very highly and that’s why we’ve invested in Streatham, Clapham and West Norwood. It’s why we’ve worked very hard to minimise the impact of huge budget cuts on Lambeth’s library services and listened to residents, staff and community groups.
"Unfortunately, the level of cuts we face means the status quo is not an option. But despite this, I think we’ve managed to find an imaginative and practical solution that maintains library services.”
Last month, over 500 Lambeth residents including journalist Jay Rayner and writer Will Self, marched to protest these closures.