Star join save the libraries campaign

CELEBRITIES across the Ham&High area have joined the campaign to save Camden’s libraries in the face of massive budget cuts over the next few months.

Alan Bennett, Jon Snow and Helena Kennedy have all signed a petition to save Chalk Farm library and both Joan Bakewell and Kathy Lette have spoken of their sadness at the impending loss of libraries across the country.

The council spends around �8million a year on libraries and intends to slash �2million from the budget over the next four years.

Broadcaster and older people’s champion Joan Bakewell said: “It is awful. I use the Chalk Farm library all the time and it is really part of my weekly life.

“This is deplorable and so sad. One has to steel oneself against these announcements about things being destroyed almost daily now.

“I am a great believer in public libraries and Chalk Farm is a proper community and people will be very upset if that closes.

“I was around when it was being built in the 60s and I never thought I would see such a pillar of civilisation destroyed.”

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TV presenter Jon Snow, who lives in Chalk Farm, said: “Libraries are absolutely structural in the community and I am particularly concerned about Chalk Farm and Kentish Town libraries.

“A lot of people are extremely reliant on Kentish Town. It is also about having access to emails and the internet – libraries are about so much more than books. In an age when people are more and more isolated by new technology, libraries are a chance to meet people and be part of the community.”

And author of 12 books Kathy Lette said: “Libraries are a portal into a better world. They are intellectual penicillin.

“Without them poorer kids will be creatively and mentally malnourished. Their only reading material will be McDonald’s menus and palms. Libraries are a necessity, not a luxury.”

A total of 250 people have so far signed the petition, which has been organised by the Friends of Chalk Farm library. Campaigners fear the cuts will hit the smaller libraries like Chalk Farm and Belsize while the bigger ones, such as Swiss Cottage, will escape relatively unscathed.

Philippa Jackson, secretary of the Friends of Chalk Farm Library, which had a stall at the Primrose Hill Christmas Fayre to raise awareness of the situation, said: “We have no idea which libraries will close but we fear it will be the community libraries as opposed to the bigger ones.

“We are open to innovation and new models of library services but we do not want to lose libraries. We had an overwhelmingly positive response to rally round and demonstrate community support for Chalk Farm as well as solidarity with the other community libraries facing life-threatening cuts.

“There are lots of interesting ideas including the volunteer model – although we do not want librarians to lose their jobs – and reducing rental rates but we are worried about the timescale. In June everything will be done and dusted and we could lose community buildings which we can never get back.

“There is huge community support for the libraries. There will be tough decisions for councillors but we want to be able to explore all the options.”

The council has not yet made a decision on how the cuts to the library budget will be implemented. It will launch a full consultation in January with the final decision taken in June.