Determined campaigners have vowed to occupy Herne Hill’s Carnegie Library “until they are forced out”.
Around 40 protesters – including small children and teenagers studying for exams – have been occupying Carnegie Library for four days now since Thursday evening (31st March) to prevent the council from shutting it down. Lambeth Council had planned to close the library - along with Minet Library - for a year to transform the building into a “healthy living centre” to be run by Greenwich Leisure Limited.
The protestors have told The Bookseller they plan to continue the occupation indefinitely.
Campaigner Dorothea Bohoius has been in the library with her two children aged 13 and nine since the occupation started.
She said: “We’re hugely disappointed in these plans and will stay here for as long as it takes. This is the only local library for a lot of people and it means more than books - it’s a community hub for people to study and work and come together. Nobody is keen on this gym idea. There are tons of gyms in walking distance, nobody needs or wants another one.”
She added: “I’m here with my two children and they’re entertaining themselves. The 13-year-old understands political ideas and the intense feeling of being embedded in a community which is why we have to protest these plans."
"We have plenty of food, the community have really been helping out.”
Chair of The Library Campaign, Laura Swaffield told The Bookseller she was not expecting to be trapped in the library for this long, but council security began preventing re-admittance on Friday evening (1st April).
“It’s a really beautiful library and there are worse fates than being trapped in library, but on the other hand it is hugely frustrating," Swaffield said. "Up until Friday evening people have been coming in and out but then the council insisted people could leave but could not come back. I wasn’t expecting to be stuck here but it’s my absolute duty to stay. It’s inconvenient - we shouldn’t have to do this.”
Campaigners are predicting legal action from the council in order to eject them from the building.
Stuart King said: “We're expecting an injunction today at some point. We've had a lot of press coverage. It's going really well. The council has tightened security so if anyone leaves they can’t come back. We're determined to stay until we’re forced out. We’ve had an enormous amount of local support. It’s putting a lot of pressure on the council. They’re having to justify the absurd proposal."
Swaffield also added the council tried to get court order to evict the protestors on Friday, but failed, although a spokesperson for Lambeth Council has not confirmed this. "People have been coming to the door and offering us legal advice," Swaffield said. "We're sure they're going to start to try and get us out, but we’re going to oppose it.”
Bohoius added: “The legal process will take some time so we’ll stay here as long as it takes.”
Lambeth Council has condemned the protest as "misleading" and "obstructive".
A spokesperson said: “These protesters are misleading residents and the public – Carnegie Library is not closing for good and we are one of the few areas of the country that has found a way to maintain a library service in all our current locations.
“The building will re-open to the public, for longer hours, in early 2017 and will have a neighbourhood library service, health and fitness facilities and space for community groups to use.
“It is unfortunate that a small number of people have decided to be obstructive, especially as Lambeth Council has worked incredibly hard to minimise the impact of the cuts on Lambeth libraries.”
Authors including Stella Duffy, Rae Stoltenkamp, Toby Litt and Joanne Greenway have expressed their support of the protest on social media.
The council planned to turn both Carnegie and Minet libraries over to Greenwich Leisure Limited to be transformed into "healthy living centres". It has previously 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.