A Library for Everyone

The following article written on behalf of the Friends was published by the Herne Hill Society in the Summer edition of their magazine.

Carnegie Library is a hive of activity. Whether you want to create, learn, socialise or simply relax on your own the library is for you.

All ages are welcomed. For the under fives there are Wriggle and Rhyme sessions where up to 100 children at a time alternate quietly listening to stories with explosions of activity. For 7 to 11 year olds there are Chatterbooks sessions to discuss books they have read. A popular weekly Chess Club attracts mainly children.
Groups for adults include literacy clubs, giving those who did not learn to read as children a second chance, reading groups and a conversation club for non-native speakers of English. Silver Surfers is a friendly social group for those of us who are older to develop our computer and internet skills.

All of the above groups and more are provided free of charge, as are books to borrow and the use of computers and the internet. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised. Despite the middle class appearance of its immediate surroundings, the library serves one of the most deprived areas in the country. Also, once children get into reading it is common for them to get through five junior fiction books a week. The weekly budgets of most families with children do not stretch to buying those books, not even second hand.

The library costs £200,000 a year. Working from what the current tenants are paying, the Friends estimate that the rents from areas not required for community use will amount to £80,000 a year, making the net cost of our library about £120,000 a year. This represents excellent value for the Council given all that the library does to promote wellbeing, social inclusion and equality of access to opportunities and services.

As part of their recent Culture 2020 proposals Lambeth nonetheless propose to stop funding our library. They suggest that local people could provide an all-volunteer library service but, as explained by the Herne Hill Society in its response to the proposals, that would be completely impractical. Seven of Lambeth’s ten libraries are subject to similar proposals. The remaining three, one in each of the borough’s Parliamentary constituencies, are promised a mixture of professional and volunteer staffing. The Carnegie Friends together with Friends groups from other libraries are campaigning for funding to be continued and expect to succeed in this.

A potential distraction unique to the Carnegie is the Shadow Trust Board. Membership is by invitation only. Most of the eight members are Lambeth Labour activists but there is no reason to think they are representative of the Council’s Labour Group as a whole. The Board proposes that the building and its rental income be transferred to unelected trustees who would use some of the space for community activities. These activities have not been specified but I assume that they could easily be accommodated in the library outside library opening hours. Financial details have not been disclosed but the idea seems to be that charities and other grant-making bodies might be persuaded to replace Lambeth as the main funders. The problem with that would be that none of those funders would give money for what in effect would be a public library and so books and all of the current activities described above would have to be excluded from the community areas. The Board has proposed that unspecified space “on site” be rented by the Friends on a commercial lease for use as a library but that obviously would not work. We could not raise enough money to pay rent for an adequate amount of space or to pay for staff.

The responses of the Friends and the Society to the Culture 2020 proposals are available at www.friendsofcarnegielibrary.org.uk
Stephen Carlill
Vice Chair, Friends of Carnegie Library

An article from the Shadow Trust Board was published at the same time and a summary of some of the misinformation in it can be downloaded here STB art Summer 2015