I understand that there are strong feelings about the future of Lambeth libraries. Libraries are valued public services that play an important role in providing space, books and enabling community activity.
The reality for public services is that they have to change because of austerity. You may be fed up with the mantra of government cuts as a justification but I am fed up with the reality of them. Cuts of 56% mean we have to prioritise where we spend money and how.
In Lambeth we have decided rather than closing services, we want to change the way we do things. That does not mean everything is up for grabs. We have clear commitments:
- Much has been made of us closing libraries. I want to be absolutely clear that we are defending 10 Lambeth libraries. There are ten libraries now and ten in the future.
- Overall, Lambeth libraries will be open longer and book stocks will be protected
- We will not lose our ambition to improve: we have committed to two new libraries in the coming years, recently built a new Clapham library (below) and we have refurbished Streatham & Brixton.
But change is hard and austerity is very challenging, particularly if it is your local service.
In Carnegie I fully accept that Lambeth Council has made this more difficult than it needed to be. We did not act quickly enough to work with, and relocate, existing user groups. We did not communicate effectively enough that the library is not closing permanently nor is it turning into a gym.
Instead the promise for Carnegie is:
- That it will reopen in 2017 and will remain free and open for all. It is not closing permanently.
- The gym will be housed in the unused basement.
- The rest of the building will occupy the same community space, including a library service and we can extend the opening hours from the current 31 to 70 hours per week.
- The building will be fully staffed at all times and dedicated library staff will be on site regularly.
The situation we are now in is not making it any easier. The occupation means that we are spending money on security and court hearings that should instead be spent on services.
This doesn’t need to be the way forward. We want residents and the friends groups to work with the Council and the Trust on making the Carnegie a community hub for all. By doing so, we can expand the provision of activities that take place in the library and community space and we can encourage volunteers to become more involved in their library.
Leader of Lambeth Council