New Cross library occupation ended on Sunday

Photo: Xixi Zheng

A group of 35-40 took part in the occupation, with 15-20 staying overnight. The protest lasted until 12 noon Sunday.

The decision was made to occupy during a ‘read-in’ protest  which was part of a national day of action to help save libraries from cuts across the country.

More than 450 libraries and mobile book services will be affected, including those in Sydenham, Blackheath, Crofton, Grove Park and New Cross. Actions were also held in Sydenham and Blackheath yesterday.

James Holland, 38, a New Cross resident who helped to organise the read-in and also set up the ‘Save New Cross Library’Facebook group around which the campaign is based, said the occupation has been a great success:

“I hope this has taken the library campaign to a whole new level. The atmosphere and attitude of people has been really great.

“Local people made it absolutely clear that they want the library to stay open in council organised consultation meetings and with over 5000 signatures on a petition. In response the council has simply delayed and re-packaged their plan, so we are taking action that we hope it will be impossible to ignore,” he continued.

Mr Holland said: “The head of the whole library services was here for a while, then they decided they should go home and some security guys were bought in, who have been really fantastic.

“The police were also demanding that we locked the door at midnight and not let anyone in or out, but we managed to persuade them that we would lock the door, but still let people in if they wanted

“There is nothing wrong with taking over the library, it is our library not theirs. We were given confidence by the students at Goldsmiths who occupied their library and maybe this can have a knock-on effect,” he added.

The timing of the action is especially significant as Mr Holland explained:

“This was a national day of action, but it actually fits in really well as next Thursday the Mayor and Council are going to be announcing who is the preferred group to take over the library, who will move to the next stage of negotiations

“I’m hoping that they will at least say we need a proper community run library as the it is the only viable alternative. But the big issue is the money, if they don’t give what it takes to run the library, then we are taking on the responsibility without any of the resources and that is not fair,” he added.

The action at Sydenham Library saw more than 100 people attended a read-in event. Children’s authors Karen Wall and Jim Helmore, creators of the Stripy Horse series, read at the event along with local author Julie Day and poet Chrissie Gittins, who read a specially composed poem “Longing to be Heard”, in honour of Sydenham Library.

Author and Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan supported the event with a reading from her book “The Reluctant Bride”.

Other highlights included a singing and music session for children and a performance by Sly and Reggie, the dub group who have penned the song “We Love Libraries“, which has become a YouTube hit.

At the end of the event, 26 balloons were released outside of the library, one for every letter of the alphabet; symbolising libraries’ role in supporting literacy.

Richard Hart, a retired librarian said: “I was here when the library had its 70th anniversary celebrations. This library is for old people and disabled people as well. It’s a centre of culture and this area has very few council facilities.”

Anthony Scully, Chair of the Save Sydenham Library campaign said: “We are here today for a celebration of the library services. Books are really important. Libraries all over the UK are under threat with regard to proposed cuts to local government.”

Mr Holland believes that the save the libraries movement, and anti-cuts protests in general, still have a big part to play in lobbying the government:

“It is quite addictive doing things for yourself, once you have broken through a few invisible barriers you don’t want to go back. It is something that can only get bigger and bigger.”

The occupation can be followed on Twitter by using the hashtags #savelibraries, #newcross and #occupation.

For more images of the protest, see the SE13URE blog.

For previous ELL coverage of the potential library closures in Lewisham see hereherehere, and here. For coverage of Croydon, see here and here.

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