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Children stage ‘Great Brain Robbery’ protest after being shut out of Barnet libraries

PUBLISHED: 11:30 06 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:30 06 March 2018

The protest was organsied to coincide with World Book Day. Picture: JON KING

The protest was organsied to coincide with World Book Day. Picture: JON KING

Archant

Children dressed as thieves and villains have staged a protest after being shut out of libraries.

Organisers dubbed the protest the 'Great Brain Robbery' to highlight their fears of the library closures impact on youngsters. Picture: JON KINGOrganisers dubbed the protest the 'Great Brain Robbery' to highlight their fears of the library closures impact on youngsters. Picture: JON KING

Youngsters and their parents braved the snow and icy wind to take action outside East Finchley Library in the High Road on World Book Day last Thursday.

The protesters urged cultures minister Matt Hancock MP to intervene and declare unlawful changes to Barnet Council’s library service which have seen staff cuts and children locked out of libraries unless with a parent.

Speaking at the protest, Archer Academy pupil, Salma, aged 11, said: “We want some independence to go to the library by ourselves. Some children find it embarrassing because they feel too old for their parents.”

The protest, dubbed the Great Brain Robbery by organisers Save Barnet Libraries, saw about 45 people chanting and waving placards saying, “Open minds need open libraries” on the library steps.

Barnet Council made sweeping changes to its library service in a bid to save money. Picture: JON KINGBarnet Council made sweeping changes to its library service in a bid to save money. Picture: JON KING

Veteran campaigner Keith Martin accused Barnet of breaking the law in failing to provide a comprehensive service.

He said: “Matt Hancock must realise what Barnet is doing is wrong. He must be aware Barnet is breaking the law.”

He described Barnet’s move as a test case, claiming councils across the country are watching the council to see if they can introduce similar measures.

Barnet decided in April 2016 to axe staff, offer self-service opening hours and open up library buildings to commercial uses in the face of budget cuts.

About 45 children and adults joined the protest.. Picture: JON KINGAbout 45 children and adults joined the protest.. Picture: JON KING

Barnet is expected to make £2.2million savings out of £61.5m it needs to cut by 2020. Barnet now pays security guards to police unstaffed venues.

Sita Brahmachari, author of Artichoke Hearts, speaking at the protest warned children who are the first generation to speak English in their families were being deprived of their rights by the changes. “The children who really need libraries are being locked out,” she claimed.

The campaigners are calling on Mr Hancock to decide whether or not to intervene after the group handed in results of a survey they carried out which showed, among other things, 60 per cent of parents saying their children visit libraries less often after the cuts.

Barnet’s Cllr Reuben Thompstone, libraries chief, said: “We consulted extensively with residents and have redesigned a library service which has allowed us to keep open all of the borough’s 14 libraries - two of which are brand new library buildings. We have also been able to maintain our home, mobile and digital library resources.

A protester and her son outside the library. Picture: JON KINGA protester and her son outside the library. Picture: JON KING

“Though we have changed the number of staffed hours our libraries are open, we will be increasing the number of hours our residents can access our libraries each week. There has been a very positive uptake for self-service opening hours, with more than 17,000 people already signed up.”

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