Thursday, 18 August 2016

Why we are marching...again!


Why we are marching for the libraries...again!
This Saturday we will go out once again to march in protest against Lewisham Council’s library cuts. The council has hatched a damaging plan to close four of its remaining libraries and to reopen three as community (volunteer-run) libraries. This would leave us with only three publicly-run and funded libraries, down from 12 five years ago. The councillors rubber-stamped these plans last month and redundancy notices have already been served to library staff. The situation is now critical; if these plans are followed through, they will have a devastating impact on what the libraries are able to deliver, and are likely to lead to their closure.
The attack on public libraries
The attack on libraries is a part of a nationwide attack on public services. Now is the time to raise our voices and use our feet to tell the council we do not approve of their plans; that this is a bare-faced denial of their duty to us as their residents, and that cutting investment in our libraries in this way will leave vast swathes of the local population without access to crucial knowledge, information and assistance.
We do not deny that councils have difficult decisions to make, due to recent austerity measures from central government. Libraries, however, are relatively low-cost services, and the rewards they reap are beyond measurement; in terms of community cohesion; education and literacy; and empowerment. The cuts are unnecessary; the savings are small and the council has a reserve fund.
Libraries matter
The defence of library services is not just a nostalgic middle-class pastime, as two Lambeth councillors implied during the Carnegie Library occupation. We cannot assume that everyone has access to books and to the internet, or the skills to make use of them. We cannot assume that everyone has another space to read in, or another place to go to see a friendly face. The reality is that they don’t. For many people, libraries are their lifeline.
Library users include children who share a room with others and need a quiet place to study, those who do not have digital skills or access to the internet, and those whose librarian is their only point of social contact. Libraries' purposes have changed, but they are still needed. The people who most need libraries are the most marginalised. To disregard their rights to everything that libraries offer is a shocking abuse of power.
Critics of libraries say that libraries are less well used than in the past; of course, fewer people will be visiting a library, since a lack of investment has led to lower quality services and to local library closures. Those that are accessible are heavily used. Every time I enter a library in this borough it is so full that I struggle to find a free table.
We need publicly run libraries
Evidence shows that community libraries are not successful. Figures show that borrowing rates fell by 60-90% between 2010 and 2014 in the libraries Lewisham had already turned into community libraries – substantially greater declines than borrowing rates in council-run libraries. Volunteers, however enthusiastic, do not have the same skills as librarians.
Closing libraries is a false economy; the Defend the Ten campaign reported that Lambeth spent more on closing its libraries than running them. Due to public spending cuts elsewhere, people have come to rely on libraries for help with other things, like filling in or scanning benefits forms. People will still need that kind of support from the council.
The running-down of libraries is also a breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which states that local authorities have a duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient library service’, which must be overseen by Central Government. This highlights a double failure, at two levels of government.
Holding our leaders to account
Just as it is our government and council’s duty to provide public services, it is ours as citizens to hold them to account.
We have a duty to ourselves and to others to demand that our authorities stop handing over the tools that empower us to private companies, which could not care less about us, or to community groups who don’t have the resources to sustain them.
We have the power to withdraw support from those elected representatives who ignore our interests. As the councillors vote in favour of destroying the libraries that so many of us value so highly, they seem unconcerned that the next local elections are less than two years away.  It is up to us to find out which of our candidates supports the services we value, and to vote for them instead.
We also have the right to protest. If you are a library user or if you care about social justice and community, please join us this Saturday 20th August on our march, to fight these unnecessary cuts; cuts which will leave local librarians jobless, us more powerless, and our communities poorer in every way.

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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.