Writers David Mitchell, Ali Smith, Cathy Cassidy, Nick Hornby and David Nicholls are among the top names who have signed an open letter supporting the occupiers of Carnegie Library and condemning the proposed changes to the Lambeth library service.
Written by authors Toby Litt and Stella Duffy with the help of Philip Ardagh, the open letter calls on the council to scrap its plans for closures and healthy living centres, keep all 10 Lambeth libraries fully open with professional library staff and to collaborate with the librarians and all the Friends groups to find ways to secure the future of Lambeth libraries.
One of the threatened libraries is Carnegie Library in Herne Hill which 40 protestors have been occupying since Thursday night (31st March) in a bid to prevent the building being transformed into a “healthy living centre” run by social enterprise Greenwich Leisure Limited.
The letter has received 220 signatures from writers and illustrators in under two days including support from Geoff Dyer, Eve Ainsworth, Francesca Simon, Ian Rankin, Sandi Toksvig, Sophie Kinsella, Will Self, Will Sutcliff and Val McDermid.
The letter acknowledges the “difficult choices” local authorities are facing due to “the large cuts enforced by central government” but says “losing libraries hurts the youngest and oldest, the weakest and most vulnerable”.
“We believe that libraries are vital for every community, and that every library needs trained librarians,” the letter said. “We realize that there may have to be changes in the way that libraries are staffed and run. Many of these changes are ones the Carnegie and Minet librarians have already put into place. The Carnegie library has endured for 110 years – why should we be the generation that fails to pass it on?”
Litt told The Bookseller: "We realise this is far from just a local fight, but we’ve chosen to fight our part of it locally. We are Lambeth writers. We’ve written this letter to draw attention to Lambeth Council’s plans for their libraries. It wasn’t difficult to get writers and illustrators to sign - over 220 signed within 24 hours".
Yesterday (5th April), the occupiers were handed a court order from Lambeth Council in an attempt to evict them.
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. Minet Library was successfully closed on Thursday (31st March) to reopen as a gym with a self-service library in 2017.
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.
Lambeth councillor Jane Edbrooke, who is in charge of libraries, has previously said: “We understand that people are passionate about this issue, but it’s a simple fact – there is less money to go round – so savings have to be made.
“Despite our financial challenge 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. 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.”
According to the Brixton Buzz, Edbrooke has been relieved of all library responsiblities, with duties now falling to Cllr Jack Hopkins.
On Saturday (9th April) the protestors plan to assemble outside the occupied Carnegie Library in Herne Hill and march to central Brixton to express their opposition to the plans.