At long last, the Carnegie Library is open but its opening is as controversial as its closure. I popped in yesterday to see for myself. A security guard on the main door exchanged pleasantries and I walked into the main room. Here were shelves of books, computers and tables and a toddler group underway. Another security guard stood near the door to the stairs that led to toilets. He told me they weren’t open yet.

 

The atrium in the main room ensures that it is still a lovely space but this isn’t going to be where the library will remain. Sometime soon, it will relocate to the old children’s library room and the gallery next door to it. The new library will occupy 151 square metres compared to the old footprint of 357 square metres (the main room plus the children’s room). I took these figures from the Carnegie Community Trust (CCT) business plan (last updated in January).

It is two years since the Carnegie was closed, forcing community activities to seek alternative venues and kicking out the twenty odd self-employed, freelance and small businesses renting desk there (including me). At that time and several months later in October 2016, when the new floor plans were displayed, there was no business case from Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL).

According to the People’s Audit, negotiations between GLL and Lambeth Council “were at an advanced stage” way back in October 2015. It further revealed that “sponsorship of the Black Cultural Archives was contingent on the agreement” which makes it all sound like a rather unsavoury, done deal.

Without this knowledge, it’s very hard to understand the council position. I haven’t met anyone who wants a gym there and it seems unlikely that it will get a lot of custom, sitting as it does in a residential area, a fair walk from any stations and not far from other gyms and leisure centres.

Aside from the gym, there is nothing in the CCT business plan that hadn’t already been addressed, either by library staff or the Friends of the Carnegie Library group. CCT’s plan says the main room will be used for flexible community use library activities, events and performances and will be available for hire. All of this would have been possible whilst using the main room as the library. The shelving was all on wheels for that reason.

I can’t decide whether the council has cynically rushed to open before polling day or cynically set up temporarily in the main room or cynically done both. I spoke to Councillor Jim Dixon who was out campaigning a week or two ago. He suggested I visit the reopened library to see it for myself. I’ve done that and remain disappointed in the lack of imagination and paucity of vision. It is dispiriting.