On 31 March a group called Friends of Lambeth Libraries decided to stay inside Carnegie Library in protest of the imminent year-long closure. Along with Minet Library archive in Camberwell, both are set to become privately owned 'book-ish gyms' with part-time volunteers. Friends of Lambeth described the 'unnecessary' occupation as the result of various failures of the Labour-run council to meet the electorate's needs. Unhappy members of the borough joined the march to support keeping the libraries open as they are, without commercialisation. Austerity has laid waste to Lambeth Women’s Project, Peckham Black Women’s Centre, and the London Irish Women’s Centre while Gharweg hangs in limbo as they have received notice of repossession of the lease on 9 February.
Greenwich Leisure Ltd bought the sites on Herne Hill and hundreds of library supporters in the community came to say good-bye to the librarians and have a few drinks, however at closing time 80 residents refused to leave. The local chippy supplied dinner for all, tweeting ''It is my pleasure to support the community. Without each other we are not a community''. Chess lessons were taught through the bars of the library gates and two of the teenage occupants tweeted a video of dancing inside the building to Beat It by Michael Jackson and tagged Lambeth Council with 'In your face.' Despite honest intentions, internet trolls and Labour councillors alike criticised the south London families on twitter for 'sitting in the warm drinking wine' while the homeless remained without shelter. Despite the intelligent and constructive responses from certain critics, residents exercised their right to peacefully protest and with help from supporters were given bedding, food and, scandalously, some wine. While the council described the demonstration as 'obstructive and misleading' they have not yet published their plans for the replacement book-ish gyms, proposed to be opened in a year.
Defend the 10 celebrated on the tenth day and 2000 marched through the streets alongside the occupiers. heir online presence is impressively professional and their efforts reached influential celebrities and the community united successfully. Local writers Stella Duffy and Toby Litt set out to collect signatures of authors and illustrators backing the occupation; a deluge of 220 meant the site had to be shut off at double the target (110, one for each year Carnegie has served them). The council's solution to Government cuts have polarised residents. Lambeth Labour has seen criticism from the Tory government on what administration chose to fund, while the community has argued a cheap and viable proposal by Head of Libraries was only considered after relentless persuasion.
Education is a simple luxury and human right which can provide anyone with infinite, free nourishment worth protecting. As ignorance and discrimination continue to pollute marginalised communities our greatest asset as a nation is our tolerance. Real communities are being affected by political friction. We should be pressuring the government to find the funding where those who are less fortunate cannot. In the past the London School of Economics saved The Women’s Library, founded in 1926 from closure in 2012. The cost of books and over-run libraries will do even more damage to the generations of students paying three times more in tuition fees than those who made the policy.
Image: Jamie Cullinan
Words: Eve Cross