Sunday, 17 July 2016

Leading Artists and Academics Oppose Lewisham Council's plans for Libraries

Leading artists, including a Turner Prize winner, and academics who have taught in Lewisham have lent their voices to the growing campaign that opposes Lewisham Council's plans for our libraries. They outline their concerns in a letter to Councillors and Mayor:

To Lewisham Councillors and Mayor Sir Steve Bullock,

As academics, artists and philosophers who have taught in the borough of Lewisham we write to urge you to reverse the £1m cut from the Library Services budget.

From twelve libraries in 2010, Lewisham council will soon reduce staffed library numbers to three.

We wish to add our voices to the residents, parents and teachers campaigning to secure the literacy, education and freedom of opportunity of future generations in the provision of library services.

Public libraries are needed to provide access to a shared, living culture. Without the grounding provided there, free of private interests, the prospects of Lewisham's coming thinkers and creators will be shortened.

If free access to local culture is withdrawn from aspiring individuals and young families and passed into the hands of the few or those who are themselves precariously positioned, it will surely face stagnation as a result.

From the emancipating student movements and music of the 1960s to the art movements of the 90s and beyond, creativity and positive change in Lewisham has had a national and international impact beginning in its community.

Professionally staffed libraries and the support to local education and culture that they provide are a part of maintaining that effect.

We call on the council to reconsider their plans and use the reserves it has to keep Manor House, Catford, Torridon Road and Forest Hill libraries open for all.

We call on private interests bidding for these public spaces to consider the consequences such action will have on the local community.

Signed by,

Simon Bedwell
Reader in Fine Art
Department of Art

Bonnie Camplin
Lecturer In Fine Art/ Art
Department of Art

Dr. Catherine Grant
Lecturer, Critical Studies,
Department of Art

Associate Lecturer,
Department of Visual Cultures

Phillip Lai
Senior Lecturer in Art
Department of Art

Professor Michael Newman
Professor of Art Writing
Department of Art
University of London in Europe

Gail Pickering
Reader in Fine Art
Department of Art

Dr. Elizabeth Price
Associate Professor in Art
Oxford University
Turner Prize-winning artist

Helena Reckitt
Senior Lecturer in Curating
Department of Art
Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Stella Sanford
Head of Department and Professor of Modern European Philosophy
Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy
Kingston University

Dr. Gilda Williams
MFA Curating,
Goldsmiths College

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Restore Our Library Service

Lewisham's libraries are a well loved and much used service, especially depended on by children.

It is upsetting then, that our libraries have been put through the wringer, and to show for it, issue numbers have fallen more than almost anywhere else in the country in the last five years. Lewisham Council has executed on its misbeggoten decision to cut £1 million from the budget, making most staff redundant whilst outsourcing operations to social enterprises and charities on decades long leases and contracts. And disgustingly, council advances this as an innovative 'opportunity'. It has also been pushing the money under the rug, as outsourced groups who run into cash flow problems are given large council grants, and this is now par for the course.

The Council removed staff from 4 of our libraries in 2016:

Catford, Forest Hill, Manor House and Torridon Road.

Despite the massive public opposition and the first council staff strikes here in decades, they pushed the changes through. This is not forgotten or over. This must be rectified.

Unison was right to believe that the implementation of the scheme would mean:

  • Professional staff will not be available in these libraries
  • Opening times will be reduced
  • If there are not enough volunteers, then libraries will close
  • Library usage and services to the community will be reduced
  • Vulnerable users won’t be able to access library services

They can no longer rightly be called libraries but pale imitations, community centres, thinly veiled property development operations that make a show of meeting a few basic library service functions and relying on volunteers. They stretch the remaining council staff dangerously thin, perhaps popping in to Pepys library once a week to mourn the chaos. Having made these idiotic redundancies so drastically management have had to take on agency staff. They've even trained up at cost new staff, who have handed in their resignation finding the conditions intolerable.

It has left us left three "hub" libraries still very basically council staffed, Lewisham, Deptford Lounge and Downham. Catford often has nobody but the security guards that work in the building, you can't print and can never expect to be able to print, and it is unsafe and unreliable.

In a borough this size it no longer meets our statutory right to a local, accessible, convenient library service.

These hub libraries are under threat of more unsubtle restructures by Bullock and head of the service Anthonio 'they changed my title so I'd have no chance of being sued' Rizzo. We campaign by all our legitimate means, from our right to public assembly, to arguing in surgeries and consultations, to looking into the published books of tender candidates to see what the council turns a blind eye to.

We have perhaps decreased the damange and slowed it down, but council generally has its head in the sand, and the tory government that goes without saying.

In this misinformation, privatisation age libraries are for their users desperately important.

Save Lewisham Libraries urges you to FIGHT FOR LIBRARIES!

Please sign our petition, come to our meetings and developing protests and get involved.