In response to the recent leaflet issued by Lambeth on the future of Carnegie Library, the Society's committee wrote to Cllr Lib Peck, Council Leader, and Cllr Jack Hopkins, Cabinet member responsible for libraries. The letter, dated 6 May, is here.
Following is an update in response to the latest leaflet and floor plans announced for the Carnegie by Lambeth Council.
Here is our response to Lambeth's latest misleading leaflet:
Local residents received a leaflet on 6th April from Lambeth Council about the Carnegie Library. This is a clarification on the key points.
Plans for the library
Carnegie Library was closed by Lambeth Council on 31st March, to stand empty until it is converted into a fee-paying gym run by the leisure company GLL. No plans have been seen for the gym, nor has anyone applied for any planning permission to convert this Grade II listed building for this purpose.
A Community/Staff Mutual proposal for all Lambeth’s 10 libraries was worked up last year by the Head of Lambeth Libraries. Her detailed business plan was rejected by Lambeth, after months of delaying. This was on the basis of an assessment using criteria that have not been applied to the GLL plan, since no such plan seems to exist.
Will it still be a library or not?
The GLL gym will have a room with an unspecified number of books, but without librarians. This is what Lambeth call a ‘neighbourhood library’. In our view this is not a library.
Lambeth’s own documentation on the number of books seems to have changed, from ‘rotating stock’ and a ‘small selection’ of books in previous documents, to the ‘same stock’. This is welcome news and we look forward to hearing more detail. Presumably this means the books will stay in the same library areas, as the same stock will need the same space: we look forward to Lambeth’s confirmation. Lambeth also say there will be some computer facilities. It is not clear how many. Many people find it difficult to use computers and will struggle without dedicated library staff to help them.
However, there is no floor plan to show exactly what space will be available for different uses and where, so these statements are impossible to consider meaningfully.
The staff in the building will presumably be gym or general facilities staff. We are told that ‘library outreach staff’ will visit on a ‘very regular basis’. This confirms that there will be no professional librarians staffing the library. It is also not clear what is meant by ‘very regular’. Only £100,000 pa has been allocated to curate activities in four or five so-called ‘neighbourhood libraries’ which is absurdly inadequate. Alongside their apparent reconsideration of the number of books, we hope that Lambeth will also reconsider their position on ensuring a full-time presence of professional librarians.
Will children be able to use it?
Lambeth’s leaflet states that there will be access for children but the concern we have raised is about access for unaccompanied children, in the absence of professional librarians (who have the right checks and are trusted by the community). The question of whether unaccompanied children under 16 will be able to use the books, desk space and computers has not yet been clarified by Lambeth.
Excavating the basement
Lambeth’s leaflet now locates the gym in the ‘unoccupied basement’ of Carnegie Library. This is a new assertion, not previously mentioned formally. The existing basement is in use, and does not run the full length of this listed building because of the hill. It would need extensive excavation to accommodate a gym. This raises several questions:
• Is there any detailed plan, including proposed floor plans, for this basement gym option? As far as we are aware, there is not.
• Has planning permission been sought for this? Given that the Carnegie Library is a Grade II listed building, this is not a trivial question. Apart from being an unwarranted intervention, excavation could destabilise the building.
• Has the cost of excavating the basement been estimated? Has this been budgeted for? What portion will Lambeth Council bear and what portion will GLL bear?
• What is the fallback option in the event that planning permission is denied?
The ‘Carnegie Community Trust’
The Council has made several statements that they are working with the ‘Carnegie Community Trust’ with the intention that this Trust takes over through an asset transfer. However, this Trust is not a community organisation. It has a handful of members, including ex-councillors, and in a previous incarnation (‘The Shadow Trust’) included a serving councillor. It is not an accountable body, is not elected and does not represent the library members or visitors, the people who rent office space or the many groups which meet in the library (Ruskin Readers, Chess Club etc.) The Friends of Carnegie Library (which has an accountable governance structure) has represented the library community since 1999, working closely with the librarians and user groups to improve the library. The council has sidelined the Friends.
Lambeth blames the library closures on the cuts to their budget. However, this is not the first time they have tried to close the library and the plan to convert the library into a gym will cost a great deal of money. Meanwhile the library will stand empty, but at a cost to the council because the building will continue to function. It houses library offices, including the home visit and stock support services, as well as those who rent desk space. Lambeth will also pay for 24/7 security guards.
Libraries are front-line services used by many vulnerable people in our community, supporting learning at all ages and reducing isolation. So Lambeth’s statements that they are protecting services for the vulnerable by closing libraries make no sense. Andrew Carnegie gave this building to the community 110 years ago for the purposes of a library because he understood the importance of libraries for education and increasing people’s opportunities in life. The Carnegie Library is a welcoming place, which is used by people of all ages and all walks of life in our community.
The #carnegieoccupation has drawn national and international attention to the plight of our libraries in Lambeth. We hope it will encourage Lambeth to reconsider. We thank all of you who have given your incredible ongoing support to efforts to save the very special Carnegie Library, along with all 10 Lambeth libraries, for our whole community and for future generations.
On 31st March, the library was scheduled to be closed until 2017. Instead, over 60 occupiers - of all ages - took over the building, and have been there for the last three days. News updates can be found on twitter, hashtag #carnegieoccupation. There has been coverage by the BBC and Financial Times, and support from many other groups. Regular rallies outside the library are being organised in support - note that currently Lambeth is not allowing anyone to enter the building - not even to let children rejoin their parents.
Defend the 10 also has updates on the situation.
There will be a march starting from the Carnegie at 11.30am on Saturday 9th.
RESOLVED TO BATTLE ON
Our Annual General Meeting on 17 March expressed a clear determination to continue our vigorous campaign in conjunction with Friends of Lambeth Libraries and the staff to prevent closure of Carnegie Library and other free public libraries in the borough. Angry that the Council's proposals will end up costing millions more than keeping the library as it is, a motion was proposed and passed unanimously:
"This meeting calls on Helen Hayes MP, all candidates for Mayor of London, and all candidates for the Lambeth/Southwark London Assembly seat to condemn the scandalous expenditure proposed for converting Carnegie and Minet libraries into gyms at a time of straitened public finances".
There was a motion of No Confidence in the Carnegie Community Trust as they are not a community organisation but a self-appointed group who do not represent or engage with any community groups. This passed by a large majority, the only votes opposed being from the two Trust members present.
A representative of one of the groups who meet in the library proposed a vote of No Confidence in the three Herne Hill ward councillors, asking them to stand down as they have ignored the views of their constituents. A member added that this also should apply to Jane Edbrooke in her Cabinet role. This motion and demand for all four to resign was carried unopposed.
The resolutions were copied to those concerned and the responses received are here. Approximately 60 members attended the meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting a collection was made for UNISON’s strike fund, raising £257.51.
Jeff Doorn, Chair
Carnegie Library is flourishing and this is evidenced by the ever-increasing numbers of visits to it and books borrowed. Market research that has been carried out is further proof, if any were needed, that the existing library-centred uses are what local people want.
In 2000 market research into possible uses of the library building was independently conducted and assessed. Friends of Carnegie Library commissioned the research but our only involvement in conducting it was to distribute questionnaires and reply-paid envelopes to a random sample of 2865 homes in the Herne Hill area specified by the researcher. The completed questionnaires, of which there were 675, were returned direct to the researcher. A copy of the survey results is here. There is a remarkable consistency between what was asked for 16 years ago and what is proving popular at the library today
For the past four years three organisations in succession have been seeking uses alternative to a library for the Carnegie Library's building. All three received generous financial support from Lambeth and they were and are under the control of Lambeth's Steering Group for Carnegie Library. No one else has played a significant role in any of these organisations.
In 2014 the first of these organisations, Carnegie Project Group, assisted in the later stages by Lambeth officers carried out market research into the possibility of major internal rearrangement and alterations to the building if funding could be obtained for this. The research consisted of a questionnaire publicised by house-to-house distribution of leaflets throughout Herne Hill and other means. A number of questionnaires completed by library supporters were mislaid and this should be borne in mind when considering the results. A total of 187 completed questionnaires were assessed by Locality, a body ambitious for change in the delivery of local services.
Although it does not deal directly with use of the building in its current configuration Locality's report is nonetheless informative in this respect. There was strong support for the current arrangements, with 60% wanting to retain the library in its current location within the building. A copy of the 2014 report is here here.
The second organisation, the Carnegie Shadow Trust Board, proposed that no space be set aside exclusively for use as a library unless Friends of Carnegie Library took a commercial lease of the rooms concerned at a market rent. However, they said that there should in any event be a library service of some kind "on site," by which they presumably meant in a room used simultaneously for non-library purposes.
The third organisation, Carnegie Community (sic) Trust, has published a proposal to replace the library by a cafe bar and halls for hire. Invited to rank 17 possible uses to include in the building, the respondents to the 2014 survey placed a cafe and evening bar 16th and 17th respectively. Thus Lambeth's puppets operated through the Steering Group have consistently pushed the exact opposite of what their own research told them local people want.
There are plenty of halls for hire locally already. The large hall at Herne Hill United Church, five minutes' walk from the library, can be hired for a whole evening for £25 and this modest fee includes use of the kitchen.
In the Culture 2020 Report proposals approved by Lambeth's Cabinet on 12th October, and subsequently by the full Council, include handing Carnegie, Minet and Tate South Lambeth Libraries to GLL, which runs leisure centres for Lambeth, for conversion to Healthy Living Centres comprising fee-paying gyms. The Centres would be subsidised until a few months after the next Council elections, the subsidy being an undisclosed amount from leisure centre profits topped up by £1 million from Lambeth's revenue reserve. The implication is that the running costs would be at least twice the running cost of the libraries they would replace, which is less than £500,000 a year. In addition to the subsidies, Lambeth budgeted £3 million for building works to convert the buildings from libraries.
The Report promises that each Healthy Living Centre would include a Neighbourhood Library but this would only be access to "a small selection of books" and computers in a lounge used for other purposes. In other words, not a library but the same as the Shadow Trust Board and Carnegie Community (sic) Trust have offered.
The details of the proposed use by GLL were not entirely clear from the report. Such evidence as it provides suggests that Lambeth had in mind budget gyms open 24 hours a day, to which access is gained by inserting a membership card in a slot. The report makes no mention of the gyms being staffed but states in ten separate places that GLL would be responsible for security and invites us to take our personal trainers to the gyms. However, GLL does not operate any card-in-slot gyms or permit personal trainers to be brought onto any of its premises.
The report's proposals were greeted with a storm of outrage and derision accompanied, we might suspect, by a tactful protest from GLL. Lambeth then seem to have shifted their ground somewhat. Opposition councillors called the decision into the Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which required a formal response from Council Officers. The response is dated 10th November and tells us that:
" Over the coming months GLL who have a
better understanding of the market demand
for these types of activity will conclude their business modelling. This will then inform
more detailed decisions on the types and
level of activities and facilities to be located in
each of the healthy living centres. This may
include a wider set of sport/physical/leisure
activities... The cabinet report provides the framework
for taking the healthy living centres concept
to their [sic] next stage of development. No
decisions have been taken as yet as to the
balance of space usage, although the report
is quite clear about the potential impact on
the existing library service."
No further information about the proposed use by GLL has been supplied to the public but it seems reasonably clear that the buildings would only be open while GLL staff were present somewhere in the building. This suggests that they would in effect be Leisure Centres with a restricted offer. There would not be pools or indoor football pitches but there might, for example, be fitness classes. There is already such a facility near Minet Library. This is Flaxman Sports Centre which GLL run on behalf of Lambeth.
The key point about location is that potential gym users are nearly all very mobile and converting Carnegie Library into a gym would not add materially to the facilities already available at Flaxman Sports Centre, Brixton Rec, Brockwell Lido and Camberwell Leisure Centre and a number of private gyms in the area. The people who most need our local library are those with restricted mobility including many elderly people and mothers with young children and buggies in tow. There are also users of the library who are autistic or suffer from severe stress problems. For them there is no practical alternative to a local library they can reach on foot.
In the assessed responses to the 2014 survey 84% of respondents opposed having a gym in the building even if the library stayed in its current position. The library currently provides gentle exercise classes, yoga twice a week and Pilates once a week. This is the intensity of exercise local people requested in their answers to questions 11 and 12 in the 2000 survey.
Neither through their puppet organisations nor through GLL are Lambeth offering anything that is wanted. What is more interesting is that they know this is the case. The only future on offer is certain failure, almost inevitably followed by sale of the buildings once the 2018 Council elections are out of the way. A possible interpretation is that this is all about money. Lambeth previously encountered opposition when they proposed selling these buildings which were donated for public use. What they now appear to be doing is creating a situation where they will say that they have done their best to keep the buildings in public use but not succeeded and there is therefore no alternative to the sales.
This is a question being asked by Stephen Carlill after corresponding with the Leader of Lambeth Council, Lib Peck. Stephen responded to a form email Cllr Peck sent out, received a reply from her and wrote again. The correspondence is here. The letter from GLL, which the Leader calls "the most credible proposal," is here.
Stephen is Vice Chair of Friends of Carnegie Library. It should therefore be mentioned that although the Council Leader was writing in her official capacity Stephen was writing in his personal capacity. If he expresses opinions, rather than merely pointing out facts and asking questions, the opinions are not necessarily those of the Friends' committee.
The Users Consultative Group is an informal network of the groups who support and use the library. It was formed in June of last year and the members are:
Book at Breakfast, who meet and read together.
Carnegie Creatives, who are the artists and others who use the desk spaces on the ground and first floors of the downhill (North) wing.
Carnegie Library Book Group, who meet to discuss books they have read.
Carnegie Library Chess Club.
Friends of Carnegie Library.
Ruskin Readers, who run the adult literacy clubs.
Parents and Toddlers, who take part in the Wriggle and Rhyme sessions.
Silver Surfers, who are middle-aged or older people mastering computers and the internet with help from our friendly library staff.
The Users Group fully supports the proposal for a Community and Staff Mutual comprising all ten of Lambeth's Libraries and the Home Visit Service, which provides a library service to the housebound from the Carnegie Library building. However, Lambeth might insist on the building being leased to a separate entity local to Herne Hill and the precaution has therefore been taken of forming a charitable incorporated organisation which would be able to manage the building in support of the Mutual. Its name is Carnegie Library Herne Hill Association CIO and it has the shorter working name of Carnegie Library Association CIO.
The Association is a membership organisation and from the first AGM onwards the members would elect a committee of trustees to run the Association. The minimum number of trustees is three and the maximum twelve. Three officers of the Friends became trustees on incorporation and the aim is to recruit a trustee from each of the other groups, so that the committee would become broadly representative of the users and the Friends would be in the minority.
A copy of the Association's constitution is here.
Our February bulletin is now being distributed, with the latest information on the library and the campaign to keep it open. A detailed version with references to information sources is here.
There will be a rally at the library on the 6th February from 2pm, to oppose the council's plans to transfer the library to Greenwich Leisure Ltd, and to support the staff/community plans to continue the staffed library service. Speakers will include local author Adam Mars-Jones, and Tim O'Dell from UNISON.