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Barnet libraries threatened with closure as council earmarks £2.8m cuts

PUBLISHED: 17:00 31 October 2014

Left to right: Jeremy Clynes, Deborah Warland, Hetty Colchester and Jonathan Seres, who all helped to set up Garden Suburb Community Library. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Left to right: Jeremy Clynes, Deborah Warland, Hetty Colchester and Jonathan Seres, who all helped to set up Garden Suburb Community Library. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Campaigners who took over running their local library to save it from closure fear that new multi-million pound cuts will “decimate” Barnet’s library service.

Barnet Council has published proposals to cut £2.85million from the borough’s libraries service, raising the prospect of closing East Finchley and Childs Hill libraries to help deal with £72m government funding cuts over the next five years.

The council will now consult residents on three options for the future library service, that would either;

- Cut staff hours by 50 per cent and rely on a telephone service

- Close six libraries, or

- Hand four libraries, including East Finchley Library, over to the community to run.

Resident Jeremy Clynes spearheaded his community’s successful campaign to run Garden Suburb Library, in Market Place, following the council’s announcement of its plans to close the service in 2011.

He fears other communities will struggle to replicate the Suburb’s success.

“The proposals now are absolutely shocking,” said Mr Clynes. “They are going to decimate the library service across the borough.

“We are a very enclosed community, and you can define it. We have a very strong residents’ association. It’s very easy to get to the community and we found it relatively easy to take over the library. People just came forward to be volunteers.

“If you take Golders Green, East Finchley and Childs Hill, the problem is I don’t think they have anyone as organised to get the thing up and running.

“They are much more loosely-knitted communities. Unless you have groups coming together to energise the community, I think it will be a lot more difficult.

“Community libraries work, we have proved that they can, but I think we are a very special case.”

Barnet Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius insisted his “preferred option” was to keep all the libraries open by utilising “21st century technology”.

He said: “This kind of service, when supported by local residents, can ensure our libraries remain valued community resources that provide opportunities for all.

“The other options show that without such changes it is likely libraries would have to close and this is a situation I’m sure no-one wants to see.”

Barnet Labour leader Cllr Alison Moore said: “These proposals will devastate our local library service and the communities they serve.

“Leaving all libraries unstaffed for 50 per cent of the time will make many more vulnerable members of the community who use libraries feel unsafe in them, and we cannot support any plan that includes library closures.”

Golders Green councillor Reuben Thompstone, chairman of the children, education, libraries and safeguarding committee, said: “Hampstead Garden Suburb and Friern Barnet community libraries show how much people value the presence of a local library building.

“Use of the council website allows people to browse an online library and then ‘click and collect’, and the borrowing of a Scandinavian model for longer opening hours could potentially make book borrowing much easier for many residents.”

In 2011, community groups in Camden stepped in to save and run libraries in Hampstead, Belsize and Primrose Hill after the council cut £1.6m from its libraries service.

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