Camden library campaigners celebrate small victory in fight against closures

Councillor Abdul Hai

Councillor Abdul Hai - Credit: Archant

Campaigners are celebrating a small victory in their fight to save Camden’s libraries after the council pledged to look again at ways to avoid closures.

Libraries chief Cllr Abdul Hai this week admitted that not enough work has yet been done to research alternative cost-saving measures as Camden Council looks to make £800,000 worth of cuts to the libraries service to help plug a £70million funding gap.

The cabinet member for customers, communities and culture has now agreed to develop its ongoing research into alternatives to closures, after speaking to the leader of the campaign to save West Hampstead Library, Labour councillor Phil Rosenberg.

More than 700 people have signed a petition to save the library in the last week.

Cllr Hai said: “It’s about being open and transparent. We want to work with people like Cllr Rosenberg and other concerned communities because for me, what is important is to have options.

“As I have said from the start, I want to retain the public libraries for our residents, so we have presented a number of options.

“We have to go into the consultation with an open mind.”

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Cllr Hai added that he will now undertake additional research into ways to share costs across all nine public libraries, including hiring out spaces for commercial use. The council is currently consulting with the public until October 6 on:

n Closing any one of its libraries

n Outsourcing the running of libraries to a private company

n Reducing opening hours and cutting jobs

n Making libraries self-service, or

n Basing libraries on the hybrid model at Highgate Library, where volunteers run the service with the council.

They are the first cuts to hit the libraries service since 2011, when the community had to step in to save three libraries from closure in Belsize Park, Primrose Hill and Hampstead.

Alan Templeton, chairman of Camden Public Libraries Users Group, said the latest round of cuts was history repeating itself.

He said: “It looks very similar to what happened last time, which was an absolute disaster.

He added: “There’s going to be a lot of bad news coming, I’m sure of that.’’

The volunteers who run Highgate Library in Chester Road in partnership with one council staff member have also expressed concern that their library might still be in the firing line, despite reducing running costs from £150,000 to £50,000 a year.

Treasurer of the Friends of Highgate Library, Linda Lefevre, said: “We have done what we can to save our library so to cut it now would be very cruel.

“We are just a survivor from the last round of cuts, when other libraries were closed. We are hoping to hang on in there. What else can we be asked to do?”

The Friends group at Queens Crescent Library in Kentish Town say the consultation has been poorly worded, and does not place enough emphasis on the value of small, community libraries.

Yasmin Allen, chairwoman of the Friends of Queens Crescent Library, said: “Queens Crescent has the highest percentage of young people using their library.

“This foundation of learning and accessibility is not for compromise and is to be highly valued.”

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