Carnegie Library Lambeth Closure

A demonstration against the closure of the Carnegie Library is planned for 6:30pm on Monday 12th October at Dunraven School in Streatham, South London. Individual councillors can also been contacted (information below).

One of south London’s most beautiful and much needed libraries is to be gutted and refitted as a gymnasium under the running of Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL). The Carnegie Library in Herne Hill is a landmark with much more than architectural and natural beauty to speak for it. 

Community hub

The library is also a well used community space where mothers are able to bring their children each week to play and learn in a safe environment at no cost. The Carnegie Library currently has a large room where children can play, gain their first experience of reading, with access to hundreds of children’s books, and even play in safety in the secluded outdoor area that has it’s own fruit trees, seating and herb patch. These are all free and invaluable services the Carnegie Library now offers to the local community and that also contribute so much to its unique character.

As one of the people who hire desk-space in the upper rooms, it has been a rare opportunity to get to know other businesses and creatives who are both living and working in the area. The Carnegie Library has its own peaceful atmosphere that is now being threatened by plans to gut its interior and redevelop the space as a gymnasium. 

Part of being in the Carnegie Library building everyday means that we see local faces on a regular basis. In the last few weeks the expressions of visitors have turned to distress as news of the planned loss has filtered through. One elderly lady stopped me by the Ferndene road entrance and after lamenting the Carnegie Library plans for closure, said, “we must do all we can to keep this place going!”. This place is more than just a well stocked and friendly library, it is a community haven with a unique history that has played an important role in the lives of thousands of residents over many decades. It is a vital component in the lives of all the people who come here each week.

The Carnegie Library also contributes creatively with gallery spaces, music sessions, reading groups, free internet usage and study space. This kind of public space is irreplaceable and must be protected for the very young and the elderly who are often not represented in the statistical analysis presented in council reports that call for change. It has been dutifully guarded for many years by the ‘Friends of Carnegie Library’.

Lambeth Council’s case for closure

The long report produced by the councillors (download here: http://goo.gl/sWZEYj) states that the Carnegie Library will be renamed ‘Carnegie Healthy Living Centre’ and contractually licensed to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) where it will be gutted and then reopened. The reports states: “There will be an increased emphasis on income generation..”. 

This last point highlights the true intention of the councillors actions. Put simply, the views of the community do not matter. No one wants this option but it is being forced through simply because the council do not have the creative capacity to closely look at other sources of revenue that could both secure a functioning Carnegie Library as well as make it sustainable in the face of future cuts. 

This document is presented as a consultation but ignores many of the proposals of community members to assist in the generation of income to keep the Carnegie Library going. 

Instead they are happy to sign away this historic treasure to GLL who currently hold no less than ten other council leisure contracts in Lambeth alone, under their subsidiary brand ‘Better’ (http://www.better.org.uk/). The point being is that this is an easy option for the council as it requires no effort.

Do we need another gym? 

Lambeth council cite many statistics in their report as evidence why a gymnasium is needed. A quick search on the internet reveals that Lambeth is awash with such places, not to mention the amazing parks with tennis courts, football pitches, swimming pools, specialised classes etc (The Carnegie Library does currently offer pilates and yoga which are also well recognised as contributors to wellbeing in modern life).

The conclusion really has to be that far from not being able to afford to keep the Carnegie Library open, we simply cannot afford to see it closed. Access to free unfettered educational space is very limited in Lambeth. The Carnegie Library offers space to work, read, think, relax, to a community that is represented by all ages and all walks of life. 

The loss of one of London’s great working spaces due to the short sightedness and weak will of the councillors who decide that fate, ensure once again that a community is about to hand a much prized jewel to a private enterprise whose mantra is  “increased emphasis on revenue generation”.

Key points

1. You can make your voice heard by emailing the councillors directly: Herne Hill ward councillors:

Councillor Jim Dickson (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), Councillor Michelle Agdomar (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), Councillor Jack Holborn, (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) Councillor Jane Edbrooke (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)* 

*all email addresses are in the public domain

2. The final decision will be made on Monday 12th October, at Dunraven school in Streatham. http://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=225&MId=9359

3. A demonstration will take place outside the meeting at 6:30pm.

4. The full report can be downloaded here?: http://goo.gl/sWZEYj

Nick Breeze is a writer and filmmaker who currently rents desk-space within the library.