Celebrities Joanna Lumley, Richard Ayoade and Mark Rylance have lent their support to the campaign against the "irrational" decision to alter the Lambeth library service, according to a campaign group, while over 500 campaigners marched on Saturday (5th March) to protest against the libraries' closure.
Journalist Jay Rayner and writer Will Self (pictured) also joined over 500 Lambeth residents to protest against plans to close three out of 10 of the borough’s libraries in April, after the staff/community alternative plan was rejected by the council.
The plans will see Carnegie and Minet libraries turned into "healthy living centres", in partnership with Greenwich Leisure Limited, the social enterprise which runs Lambeth’s leisure centres. The libraries will close on 1st April while the changes take place.
The council also proposed transforming Tate South Lambeth library into a "healthy living centre" run by GLL and Durning Library into a town centre library, but after a public consultation, "recognised the desire to keep these libraries open" and has proposed that the libraries will both remain open until the council can "identify a permanent site for a town centre library for the north of the borough". The council has stressed that this may mean reduced opening hours for the libraries.
The library service in Waterloo will be moved from its current location to the nearby Oasis Centre.
The plans, adopted as policy in October 2015, will see the town centre libraries in Brixton, Streatham, West Norwood and Clapham protected, which the council says accounts for the "majority of library usage".
The council will also continue to fund Upper Norwood Joint Library jointly with Croydon Council.
Self told the marchers that local libraries are more important than ever as a way to give internet access to all, whatever their income. They are not a gift to "well-toned bankers", he said, linking the idea to the "rapid gentrification" taking place across Lambeth.
Laura Swaffield, chair of Friends of Lambeth Libraries, said: "[Libraries] are not the council's slush pile, to be trashed, sold or given away as it pleases. They belong to us. Hence our slogan: Don't Steal Our Libraries.
"I'm also chair of The Library Campaign, the national charity that supports library supporters. I get reports from all over the UK, but Lambeth's plans are unique. No other council in the whole of the UK aims to spend more on destroying libraries than it would on saving them. It's the stupidest plan I have ever seen."
The council has rejected an alternative plan put forward by its own head of libraries, Susanna Barnes, to form a staff and community mutual organisation to deliver the existing 10 Lambeth libraries as a statutory service. Campaigners say this would save more money than the current plan while still keeping all 10 libraries running and that decision seems "irrational", however, a statement from the council said the staff mutual was "assessed and found to not meet its aim".
The statement read: "[The evaluation panel's] assessment found that while the staff and community mutual proposal contained some good proposals for service improvements, there was not a business plan in place that could deliver the significant savings required by 1st April 2016. The proposal did not address in detail questions about the transfer of legal responsibilities, staff terms and conditions or how they could generate more income. It was not a viable plan that could deliver the savings required within the next 12 to 18 months."
Cllr Jane Edbrooke, Lambeth Council cabinet member for neighbourhoods, 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.
“We recognise the strength of feeling and passions roused but are disappointed at inaccurate claims suggesting we’re closing five libraries. We’re not. Indeed, the march focused on Tate South Lambeth on Saturday which we have recently announced will stay open as a town centre library.
“We’re continuing to have library services at nine of our existing sites and the service at Waterloo will move to the nearby Oasis community centre. 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.”
In response to the planned closures, campaigners will make an application for judicial review "immediately".
Lambeth library workers have twice gone on strike to protest the plans.
Picture: Vivienne Lewis