Novelist rallies Camden’s library troops

BESTSELLING author Deborah Moggach has made an impassioned speech to save Camden’s libraries – as it emerged that 5,000 people have responded to a public consultation on their future.

The Hampstead resident urged councillors to recognise the priceless role libraries and books play in a civilised society – and to stand up for them.

“I honestly believe that if anyone here votes for closures, when they look back over their lives, they’ll feel a great sense of shame,” she told the council chamber on Monday night.

“Libraries are beyond price. They are our street corner universities. They are a centre for the community. They are one of our few remaining public spaces where knowledge is free.”

Ms Moggach, whose books include Tulip Fever and In The Dark, said that culture was not the icing on the cake, but the cake.

She warned councillors that there would be no turning back if they elected to close Camden’s libraries.

“As [film and theatre director] Richard Eyre says, by diminishing the opportunity to experience the arts and humanities, we condemn future generations to a life a little less than human,” she added.

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Ms Moggach led a deputation by Camden’s Public Library Group, C-Plug, which is vehemently opposed to the council’s plans to restructure services and possibly close some of its 13 libraries.

In a consultation, which ended last Monday, the council asked library users to comment on how it should reduce its libraries budget from �8million to �6million. It has already made back office cuts of �400,000 and needs to shave a further �1.6million off its budget, according to the council.

Actor and Hampstead resident Lee Montague questioned whether Camden had sufficiently scrutinised its overall budget before proposing library closures. “Before we consider any plans, we should actually face the fact that we don’t really need to close any libraries in the borough because the council’s finances have not been sufficiently investigated,” he told the chamber.

Camden’s younger library users were also represented at the meeting. Isabella Waite, eight, and Eliza Daunt, seven, handed a petition to Camden’s mayor.

The girls became friends when they met as babies at Rhyme Time at Heath Library in Keats Grove and regularly visit the children’s section together.

Isabella told councillors: “Books are good for lonely people who have lost something very dear to them.”

Eliza, whose father owns Daunt Books, told the Ham&High: “I love Heath Library. It’s really nice to sit down and pick up a book in a relaxing place.”

Tulip Siddiq, the Labour councillor who is responsible for libraries, said that 5,000 residents responded to the survey – the largest ever in Camden Council’s history.

But she warned that Labour councillors were being forced to make difficult decisions because there was an �80million to �100million budget shortfall since the government slashed local authority funding by 26 per cent.

She urged residents and opposition councillors to support cabinet members in their decisions and help move the consultation forward. “To quote Benjamin Franklin, we should hang together or all hang separately. I need your help to take this forward.”

As she spoke, Brent, which is also a Labour-run council, voted to close six of its 12 libraries. This was despite 86 per cent of respondents to the public consultation there saying that they did not want their libraries to close.

The same consultancy firm, Red Quandrant, is advising Camden and Brent on how to make cuts.

But Cllr Siddiq told the Ham&High on Tuesday that this did not mean that the future of Camden’s libraries had already been decided.

“We’re definitely not going to go down the same path as Brent,” she said.