Friday, 3 May 2019

The Library: An oasis for me and my daughter

As the parent of a child with special educational needs (SEN), libraries have proved to be my salvation over the years. I know where they all are throughout London, from the local library in Lewisham, Charing Cross library in the heart of the city, the Saison Poetry Library and onto the British Library. In a large, busy and sometimes frightening city, they are oases of calm where my daughter can find refuge. They are places where she can go to engage in her favourite pastime, reading. As a one income household with rent and bills to pay, I can keep her supplied with a never-ending stream of wonderful books that I could never afford to buy. I’ll never forget her face when she was ploughing through the history books on the open shelves in the reference section of Lewisham Library, cross referencing dates and names, completely engrossed; her reaction to the language of Dickens upon reading the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, her wide eyes and her ‘wow’ as she gazed at me in awe and joy. These are occurrences that I could never have experienced without my local library.

When you are a parent or carer of a child with SEN/disabilities, you can feel very isolated. Even as a member of a support group or Facebook group, for many people social interactions with other adults, other than health or education professionals, can be minimal. For me, in times past, there were many days when the only adult conversation I had during the day was with library staff. A smile and a brief chat can help you remember who you are and what you care about. I know that I am not alone. 

Recently, on a trip to the opticians, my daughter had a complete meltdown. I stood while tears and snot and shouting happened. These events can leave you feeling drained and helpless. Once she had calmed down she elected to go to the library, a place where she feels safe and secure and where she can read, her mechanism to help her cope with life. I walked in and was greeted by a smiling face of a lovely librarian who knows both of us. She had been thinking of us as she had recently checked in a book that she thought my daughter would enjoy. Suddenly, the world felt a much better place. It may have been a small event for the librarian, but it was life affirming for me.

Libraries are so much more than buildings that are filled with books. They are a community, a social service, a place where we and our children can grow and learn about the world and our place in it. They are a part of who we are and how we live life. I can safely say they are essential for my sanity!

Monday, 8 April 2019

The Unfeasible Study Rumbled! Demand better and take action

What's Going On
Libraries in Lewisham face a cut of almost half a million pounds to their annual budget starting in the new financial year beginning this April. Protest in 2018 led to council’s own committees rejecting the whole range of proposed plans for how the cut could be structured. We believe any cut to the service would disproportionately affect vulnerable people and protected groups. This affect was acknowledged as inherent in every option of the cut put forward, and its the reason why all options were referenced back by council's committee. Council then declared the cut ‘on hold’ which is misleading as it remains on the same schedule as always in their financial plan. Council said they were waiting to share their plans until a feasibility study into construction work at Lewisham Library was sufficiently advanced or finished.

The timing means that public consultation can only be a mere afterthought: consider that pressure is on to see savings starting in this same April; clearly this approach leaves contributions by stakeholders too late. To quote a recent answer to a public question submitted to council by the campaign, too late actually, for library users, staff and unions to feasibly have any impact on the formative ‘high level’ stages of the plan.That applies especially to potentially outright rejecting the plan, as it would mean renegotiating the budget in other areas and there would not be adequate time. It will only remain for us to have a say that might tweak the ‘detail’.

As a result the campaign has concerns that this feasibility study will have no effect on the plans for implementing the proposed cuts. Will it be a convenient example they can point to and claim they have done due diligence on this front as they put through cuts? In reality, if the council begin implementing the cuts and redundancies this year before consultation has been done, they could face a judicial review. Consultation becomes unreal if the result is actually foregone conclusion. We remain worried they could try to make redundancies in September. We hope staff are treated with respect and kept fully informed, not kept in the dark about their future.

It has recently broken news in the Newshopper. Read their report here

What's the History?
Lewisham Libraries Service has been cut drastically over the last decade, and the promised improvement to the service of the community library scheme that puts volunteers in place of staff managed by various unaccountable organisations has been a predictable disaster: Recently a new IT system was put in place and several community libraries couldn’t lend, return or renew books. While some services in the UK thrive, with increased borrowing and use, Lewisham languishes with a huge fall in borrowing, due to reduced opening hours, poor stock, privatisation by the back door and de-skilling as so many librarians and assistants were made redundant including union activists.

Demands - What is it our campaign must win?
To Save Lewisham Libraries we’ll use every avenue we can, from public appeals, protests and press releases to private correspondence lobbying. More suggested actions and plans you can get involved with to follow.
TRANSPARENCY – Expose the decision-making for services reliant on public funds.
    We demand the public release of the brief given to internal consultants of the feasibility study, and for consultation with the public to be launched immediately. What goals must the plan meet to be defined feasible?
    Additionally we demand immediate public scrutiny of the  plans for how to cut the service beside the feasibility study.
    We demand regular meetings with the councillors responsible for the service.
    We demand an audit of the community libraries, which aren't being held accountable on the standard service delivery the scheme guaranteed, council pledged meant to take back in house services that fail in the hands of community organisation, and has been turning a blind eye, particularly at Crofton Park.  We shouldn't have to make these demands, we should be able to expect this diligence.

ACCOUNTABILITY - Hold to account all the authorities over Lewisham irresponsibly de-skilling, casualising and degrading the Library service.
    We shall expose how not just Tory cuts to local authorities but the council's decisions on how to deploy that shrinking budget have been made on poor values and not the values of solidarity and socialism they were elected on.
    This is in order to make the case for a more realistic approach: Resistance has always been and is increasingly the only responsible direction. We can see where acquiescence gets us. We’ll analyse what’s been done and look at councils that prove bolder approaches pay dividends, and raise awareness of what can technically and politically be done now.

ANTI-AUSTERITY AGENDA - Stop further damage and raise awareness of the need for the service to return to form. Right now we are at breaking point, and council is still pursuing David Cameron's Localism and Big Society idea, which was always an excuse for making crucial services precarious. Council must start enacting alternative strategies like the Preston Model for fair local procurement and municipal socialism.
    We must raise the public consciousness of how vital a professional statutory library service is, how we can’t afford to see it run down, remembering what is being lost, what qualities a good service delivers and what underpins that.
    National government, needless to say, needs to bring local authority funding back to normal, back to the levels pre 2008 crash, with immediate effect, and thereupon all libraries should be taken back in house and a mobile library services set up again, along with serious investment in the collection online and off, suspension of fines, and ensuring all libraries have a quiet reading area.

How to take action for this
Join our next stall flyering to raise awareness midday Saturday the 18th May 2019 outside the Deptford Lounge Library, Deptford High Street.
Join our next meeting  
Monday, 15 April 2019 from 19:15-21:00 and the venue is still to be announced:

Use our template of suggested points collected by one of our activists as inspiration to put in your own words your concern in emails to your representatives. You could start with your few local ward councillors and MP easily using
Then use your own email application to contact: Councillor responsible for Lewisham libraries, the Lewisham Mayor and the Chair of Safer Stronger Communities Select Committee, and UK Government minister with responsibilities for Libraries:,,,

Raise it at your next local assembly, of local public engagement with representatives!
in your trade union and local branch of your political party, if you're in one.
In your own time distribute copies of our latest flyer: (which we'll link here when its ready)
Get in the know the better to argue, by checking out the links on our resources page

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Can we (please!) be more ambitious for our libraries?

“We do mind-building, soul-affirming, life-saving work”. - Khalil Gibran Muhammad, former director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

Imagine if the British Library was open to everyone, and was also responsible for running all the local libraries in London. The funding, I suppose, would come partly from the Mayor’s office, with the rest coming from private donations. That’s the closest I can get to describing the New York Public Library system as depicted in Frederick Wiseman’s documentary Ex Libris, shown at Deptford Cinema last weekend.

The film is 3hrs 17 minutes long, which I appreciate sounds like a big commitment if you’re not a library nerd. But it doesn’t have a narrative, so you could watch it in chunks, or watch just half an hour of it to get the idea. I would urge anyone with responsibility for libraries to do so. The film moves from librarians and other staff on the front line, to glimpses of public events, footage of the many different services that take place across the library network – lectures, reading groups, baby sessions, kids’ programming classes -  and a number of administrative meetings. While watching it felt like there were perhaps too many of these, but in fact they are the scenes that have really stayed with me. In every scene the leadership demonstrate passion, strong values, and most strikingly ambition.

This is what comes through most in the film, and has nothing to do with available funds or staffing structures. The management team are clearly aiming to meet not only their statutory requirements, but asking how they can go further. All their plans are underpinned by their mission, as they ask themselves not just what they need to do but what could they possibly do? How are they serving the communities they are working in? We see how they are constantly monitoring how their needs change and looking at how they can continue to meet them; planning alongside educators to make sure their collections meet the needs of students and teachers; considering their duty to homeless New Yorkers who use the library; providing local people with internet access at home, to help them develop their digital skills and access the library’s online services. There is such a strong sense of a mission, a passionate belief in who and what libraries are for.

Rather than exporting a model that treats libraries as a problem, rather than the solution to many problems, we should be learning from the places that have got it right – Chester West & Chester were the winners of last year’s Guardian’s Public Service awards for their ambitious Storyhouse project. Funded partly by the local authority and partly by the Arts Council and other trusts (see the Guardian article here), Storyhouse combines a new library, cinema and theatre and is run by the council’s library services team. The result?

“Today, visitor numbers have rocketed by more than half a million, library membership has increased by 6% – up 11% among teenagers – and book borrowing is on the rise.”

The size and scope of the two are very different, but what Chester and New York have in common is ambition. Someone, somewhere in Chester thought big and then tried to make it happen. We may not be able to spend that much, or raise that much in additional funding, and we might not have a spare art deco building lying about, but surely we can do better than the minimum? Rather than asking how little can we get away with spending on our library service, why not ask how much we could get away with spending? What’s the best we could do with what we have, and what could we do if we had a bit more?

But with the best will in the world, such a service cannot be run on a shoestring. A service that goes above and beyond for its residents cannot rely mostly on volunteers, however passionate they may be. We need trained staff who can help the public with the wide variety of issues they have, and staffed opening hours that can meet the community’s needs.

I’m not suggesting that we move to a public-private partnership like New York, or that we could replicate their budget, but imagine if we could replicate the kind of ambition that both New York and Chester have for their libraries. I appreciate that these are hard times, and I’m aware of the huge cuts local authorities have suffered under austerity, but an ambitious library strategy would connect the service to other council goals – (as such they could be said to be part of social care strategies rather than leisure). As described in previous blogs, libraries are pivotal in reducing loneliness in older people, and supporting people living in poverty. The council aims to be a sanctuary borough, and admirably plans to welcome 100 refugee families in the next year, aims to improve our secondary schools, reduce knife crime and make Lewisham safer. Libraries can support all these ambitions, and should be seen as an intrinsic part of all those strategies, rather than a hindrance to them, just another rival for funding.

We await the results of the council’s feasibility study into the possibility of rebuilding Lewisham Library. I hope the council will take this opportunity to ‘think big’ for libraries, and will see the true value of a professionally staffed, well-funded and ambitious service.

Ex Libris film review by a Save Lewisham Libraries campaigner

Monday, 18 March 2019


Join us on Saturday 30 March at Deptford Cinema for a rare screening of EX LIBRIS, a documentary by legendary filmmaker, Frederick Wiseman. The film offers a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of various branches of The New York Public Library. 
The screening will have an intermission, plus a discussion with library campaigners in response to themes in the film.

For more information and tickets:

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Libraries and the Fight against Poverty

Libraries matter – and most of all to those who are homeless or living in poverty due to low income, debt, illness or issues with Universal Credit. For those experiencing poverty, libraries are not a luxury, but a necessity, providing essential information, access to online services and free education resources, with vital assistance from professional library staff.

From Wednesday 6 February, Downham Library will be closed for refurbishment until Thursday 28 February. Very little notice has been given to the public regarding this closure, even though many rely on its services. Some Downham Library users may have a Universal Credit claimant commitment - a specified amount of time that must be spent logged in looking for work and applying. If this is not done, they face sanctions. This could be a real issue for claimants living in Downham.

While we welcome the improvement of physical library facilities, Save Lewisham Libraries campaigners are concerned that this sudden closure, albeit temporary, will adversely affect those already living under the burden of a low income, particularly those on Universal Credit who have to undertake mandatory 'claimant commitments': specified hours that must be spent logged into the DWP's Universal Jobmatch website looking for work.

We know that library staff frequently support users, particularly those with limited digital literacy skills, to complete these mandatory tasks. During the temporary closure no extra provision for assisted access to public computers in the area appears to be available or advertised.  We are deeply concerned that this situation could lead to claimants facing benefit sanctions - this is a serious issue as there are numerous cases where such sanctions have led to loss of life.

We will be writing to Downham and Whitefoot ward councillors and Janet Daby MP to request that they write to the DWP and to Job Centres serving the area to make them aware of the situation, specifically that claimants may present at interviews with good reason for not having been able to meet their requirements during the period of the closure and that you urge them not to apply sanctions.

Any further cuts to professional staffing budgets at the three remaining council-run 'hub' libraries in Lewisham (Downham, Deptford and Lewisham Central) are likely to have a profound impact on users who are Universal Credit claimants and/or food bank users. As a recent iNews article on the realities of working in a library in the era of Universal Credit reveals: 

“People think that libraries are just there for fun. A lot of the time we’re the only places with staff that have the time to help people.  [...] People talk about cutting library services without really acknowledging we’re doing a lot to prop up services that haven’t been provided by the Jobcentre. [...] It makes me very frustrated about the Universal Credit system. I appreciate it being online but it can be so isolating for people who haven’t had that experience before. I saw the film I, Daniel Blake before I started working at the library and I thought it must be an exaggeration. But that scene, when he’s holding the mouse up to the screen and trying to control it, that’s exactly what happens on a regular basis. “It’s really difficult for libraries to quantify how much we help. In the case of [helping a benefit claimant with limited English language skills], that counts as one enquiry and one digital support service, but in reality that was making sure he didn’t get sanctioned. That was quite a big thing for his life. Maybe we had fewer visitors last year but we’ve helped more people in a more meaningful way."

Similar stories of unquantifiable social value abound in Lewisham. One Save Lewisham Libraries campaigner describes how she became motivated to fight against library cuts because of the people she met while volunteering at one of four foodbanks in Lewisham: 

“The importance of libraries for people who come to foodbanks is that – as well as being a wonderful source of books – libraries are often the only place where they can access computers and find out how to use them in order to fill in forms for benefits and make job applications. Foodbank users are often caught up in an impersonal automated system, with no-one ever available to answer telephone enquiries in person. It seems that it is only possible to provide information and process applications online and many foodbank clients have no access to computers except through their local libraries. And they often have no recourse to public funds, having recently been in prison, or are victims of domestic violence, refugees, or are homeless, or a combination of several of these severe difficulties. The professional advice and sympathetic support provided by experienced library staff to such vulnerable people is really important and incredibly helpful.”

Food bank donations at New Cross Learning

In his critical statement following a visit to the UK in 2018, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, also raised the injustice of government cuts to local authority services, including libraries, because of the safety net they provide for people in poverty: 

“It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation. And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies. Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centres have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centres have been sold off.”

Cuts to library services hurt us all, but hit homeless people the hardest is described by a library worker writing anonymously in The Guardian

"For many homeless people, the library is a sanctuary. The computers provide a way to stay connected to loved ones, and access to information on jobs, benefits and housing. The books and newspapers provide solace, information and entertainment. And it is a place of safety – something most homeless shelter residents spend their days searching for. I had assumed that the local park was the most obvious public space, but one regular library visitor explained that it was lonely and unsafe out there. The library was the only public place with staff to keep the space safe."

Libraries cannot solve the problem of poverty, but they can give critical assistance to those in desperate need, by providing information about where to get specific support, access to computers and support with digital skills, and a warm safe place for people of all ages and backgrounds. Library closures or reductions in trained library staff have far-reaching, long-term consequences for society – but those experiencing extreme poverty, the consequences are immediate and devastating.

Join our campaign to stop further devastation to Lewisham Library Services. 

Our next meeting is on Tuesday 12th February, 7-9pm, at the Amersham Arms pub, 388 New Cross Rd, SE14 6TY.


Lewisham Foodbank
Hope Centre
Malham Road
Forest Hill
London SE23 1AN

(open Wednesdays 10 am - 12 noon and
Fridays 12 noon - 2 pm) 

Sunday, 3 February 2019


You are welcome to join us at our next meeting
7-9pm Tuesday 12 FEBRUARY 2019

Amersham Arms
388 New Cross Road 
London SE14 6TY

We look forward to planning our next month of campaign actions. 
Open to all. 

Monday, 14 January 2019

Campaign Meeting 7.30pm Monday 14 JAN 2019

Happy New Year to you all!

There is a campaign meeting tonight at 7.30pm Monday 14th January 2019

Please note we are trying out a new venue for our meeting... 

Suttons' Radio 139-141 Lewisham High St, London SE13 6AA

Please join us to plan for the campaign in 2019. 
Hope to see you all very soon!