Sarah McIntyre (jabberworks) wrote,
Sarah McIntyre

carnegie occupation: save libraries!

You know the library closure situation is bad when people are actually locking themselves into doomed libraries and refusing to leave. That's exactly what's happening with the #CarnegieOccupation and these people have been in the Carnegie Library in the Herne Hill-Loughborough Junction area of southeast London for five days and are not planning to leave until it's saved from Lambeth Council-led ideas of turning it into a gym.

When I visited today, the protesters at the front gate explained to me that there are lots of gyms in the area, and this library was given to the people by Carnegie, not the council; they claim the council have no right to take it away from them. They said that the council thought they could leave some shelves with books, and still call that a library - 'a healthy living centre with a self-service neighbourhood library' are the words on the council library website - but the book area would be unstaffed. They were frustrated that the council was trying to call this book area a library, arguing that a space with books isn't a library unless there are librarians present. (Too right!)

I wasn't sure if the occupiers would have enough to eat after five days, but when I got there, I saw that the community have been great about keeping them stocked up with food and toiletries. What they need most is publicity for the cause, so the Carnegie Library and others don't quietly disappear. The council and the government need to realise libraries are a BIG DEAL in their communities, and they need MORE funds to stay up to date with modern times, not budget slashing and closures.

Here's a poster I drew for the protest, based on a poster I'd designed earlier (which you can download free here). Some people argue that the Internet makes libraries irrelevant; you can find information and buy books cheaply online. But if you plonk a kid in front of a computer to do their homework, they're not going to know how to find good information other than what Wikipedia and Google turn up. How can they know which sources are helpful and reliable, or do more than copy and paste? How will they even know what 'a reliable source' means?

This argument also assumes everyone has access to the Internet, computing equipment of some sort, and at least a little bit of money and a credit card to buy cheap books. But this isn't the case, library closures deeply affect the poorest and most vulnerable. Many of them need the library for a safe and warm place to study, free access to books and computers, the guidance of librarians, and a wide range of other services, depending on the local area and their needs.

The area closest to my heart is children's books: kids go through SO MANY books when they're young, more than even most well-off parents can be expected to buy. One quality picture book will cost well over a fiver, and a young child will easily read 20 in a week; a 10-year-old in a week might read five or more novels. Kids need a wide range of books coming at them constantly, not one book every year for their birthdays.

(When the kids in Carnegie Library found out I made books, they rushed back inside to see if the library had any and brandished them victoriously. We had a nice little chat about how I create the pictures in When Titus Took the Train.)

The #CarnegieOccupation are looking for support and it's great to see them getting it from other groups, such as this tweeted photo from the Lambeth Library staff. One of the protesters told me that none of the occupiers in the Carnegie are library staff; they said they wanted to protect its staff from losing their jobs, and it's non-employees who really need to speak up.

You can read more about library cuts in the recent BBC report on library closures, with exact figures, a grim read. (Go there first if you're going to follow any of the links here.)

I don't only want to focus on London libraries - so many more isolated communities need their libraries just as much if not more - but the #CarnegieOccupation seems to have hit a real nerve with people and the media coverage can lead a lot more people to consider their own libraries and decide how much they value them.

You can get updates on #CarnegieOccupation by following the Twitter hashtag, you can read a BBC article on it here, an Evening Standard article here, a BuzzFeed article here and an article in The Bookseller here.

You can sign a CILIP library services petition about library closures overall at the My Library By Right website.

The official demonstration Twitter account seems to be @DefendtheTen (here's the Defend the Ten website, and Carry On Carnegie - a blog run by young occupiers) and @SaveLambthLibs; I've seen tweets of support from the Society of Authors (@Soc_of_Authors) and CILIP library services (@CILIPinfo).

Best wishes, Carnegie Library, I hope you win this one.

EDIT: There's a march scheduled for 11:30 on Saturday!
Tags: libraries

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