'Barmy' Barnet libraries policy: Children set for World Book Day protest dressed as 1984 characters
PUBLISHED: 16:00 23 February 2017 | UPDATED: 16:58 23 February 2017
Children dressed as Voldemort and characters from 1984 are planning to descend on East Finchley Library to stage a World Book Day protest against Barnet Council's "ridiculous" and "dangerously unsafe" libraries policy.
Organised with campaign group Save Barnet Libraries, the demonstrators intend to highlight drastic changes to the borough’s libraries – including months of closures, the introduction of self-service libraries with no staff that exclude unaccompanied under-15s and a future of smaller libraries featuring more commercial space for rent.
Barnet Council said the scheme will save £2.2million of the £61.5m the council needs to cut by 2020 while keeping all 14 libraries open, boosting hours and maintaining access for children.
But East Finchley mum-of-two Mary Beer-Cleasby, one of the organisers of the protest, said the plans – which will come into effect on April 1 – are “surreal” and accused the council of dwelling in a “Trump-style alternative universe”.
“I don’t understand – why are they so against their people?” she said.
“Parents and children are especially concerned about the impact Barnet’s far-reaching anti-child measures will have on literacy.”
She said that because the self-service hours of the libraries will be open only to over-18s – or 15-year-olds with a school stamp and parental signature, and to 16 and 17-year-olds with just a parental signature – young people will be particularly affected.
East Finchley Cllr Arjun Mittra agreed, stressing that he is “horrified” by the “absolutely barmy” move.
He added: “They should do the decent thing and give the students one last year to use the library properly – give the kids one last summer to study.
“They are completely running the service down.”
Cllr Mittra also said he was worried about the “dangerously unsafe” plan to operate self-service hours – where CCTV cameras and a PIN-accessible door stand in for staff.
“It’s ridiculous – especially since the lavatories are unaccessible without staff,” he said.
“Notices are going to be put up instructing users where the nearest public toilets are, but I can’t think where that will be for East Finchley.”
But Cllr Reuben Thompstone, chairman of the children, education, libraries and safeguarding committee, defended the council’s move.
He said: “Though the number of staffed hours is reducing, we are giving our residents increased access to their local library using technology extended opening hours.
“During staffed hours, there is no change to the way children can access the library and children can make use of the new extended opening hours when accompanied by an adult.
“Schools can also register to use the self-service opening hours and will be able to accompany children during unstaffed hours, and we are working with schools to ensure that they are aware of this opportunity.”
He added that Barnet’s libraries are “part of a universal and unique service” offering learning opportunities to everyone in the borough.
“Our ongoing ambition is for libraries to continue helping all children in Barnet to have the best start in life: developing essential language, literacy and learning skills, and developing a love of reading from an early age,” he said.
But one of the protestors, 11-year-old Wren Academy pupil Ralph Vincent, said Barnet is “entering very dark and scary times indeed”.
“Dystopia should be confined to works of fiction rather than the very real actions of our local government,” he added.
“We simply want the proper educational and cultural access that is our right.”
Protestors will gather at East Finchley Library, in East Finchley High Road, from 3.45pm on Thursday, March 2 – World Book Day.