Carnegie Library in Herne Hill has partially re-opened after almost two years. The new library will open a basement gym in late summer 2018, operated by the council’s leisure provider GLL.
The library closed in March 2016 following Lambeth Council's plans to "expand its offering", principally through the addition of a new healthy living centre. A 10-day occupation of the library followed in protest at the plans, led by chair of the Library Campaign, Laura Swaffield.
Lambeth Council has argued its intervention was necessary "in order to keep the library open and financially sustainable in the long term" with the gym to provide an extra source of income. It said in a post announcing the re-opening of the library that work was "nearing completion", allowing the facility to initially open in the main hall on the ground floor of the building, for 40 hours per week. The rest of the building will "open in phases", it said.
According to the council, Lambeth Libraries staff will be present "for at least two hours per day", while "customer care staff" will be on hand during all library opening hours (Monday 1-8pm; Tuesday 1-6pm; Wednesday 1-6pm; Thursday 1-6pm; Friday 1-6pm; Saturday 9am-5pm; and Sunday 12-5pm).
Book stock will be built up to the same level of 18,000 titles as it held previously, the council further promised, and there are 10 computers for library members to use, plus a computer with access to the Lambeth Library catalogue.
However, campaigner Swaffield is not pleased with the re-opening. She said the gym was "nowhere near ready" with "noisy building work" set to continue until autumn 2018.
"The library had been set up in the beautiful main library room - but within weeks it will all be crammed into the much smaller front room," she said. "It's currently under extensive repairs because of council neglect during the closure that led to flooding, again and again."
Swaffield has also claimed UNISON reps and locals have observed "uncomfortable levels of dust" and that there is "no heating".
Cllr Sonia Winifred, cabinet member for Equalities and Culture, admitted work extending the library had "taken longer than we expected" but said "we are now getting to the end of that process".
Plans put forward by the Carnegie Community Trust (CCT) for the library to function as a "community hub" include: a café, an enterprise centre, space for meetings and community events, space for hire and restoration of the garden for use by residents and the community alongside the library provision which will move into the former gallery and children’s library at the front of the building.
"The short term pain of having the building closed and extended will ensure that it is sustainable long into the future," said Winifred. "Local authority budgets are under severe pressure from government cuts and hundreds of libraries up and down the country have sadly closed for good. In Lambeth however, we have worked hard to find solutions that means all ten of our libraries are remaining open, serving their local communities and providing a great service to our residents."
The council has yet to respond in relation to the specific concerns raised.