Local residents have launched a new campaign to protest against £450,000 worth of planned cuts to Lewisham’s library services.
The council has set the target of slashing back the budget by 14 per cent, which will mean either reducing staffed library opening hours by 45 per cent at Lewisham Library, Downham Library and Deptford Lounge, or removing all library staff from Downham Library and Deptford Lounge.
School librarian Caroline Jupp and others reignited the ‘Save Lewisham Libraries’ campaign on Monday night.
“The latest cuts are drastic, and will have a terrible impact on the most vulnerable in our communities,” she said.
Many of the campaigners had been active in previous attempts to protect Lewisham’s libraries, including occupying an axed library overnight in 2011, or joining a 2016 protest which saw hundreds marching through the borough.
Three of Lewisham’s council-run libraries were turned over to community organisations after £1m was cut from its library budget in 2015, leaving the council responsible for just four out of 13 libraries in the borough, down from 12 in 2011.
Councillor Jonathan Slater, Cabinet Member for the Community Sector, said the council was facing cuts of its own.
“The Government has cut Lewisham’s funding by £165m since 2010, that’s 60 per cent, and we are being forced to find further cuts totalling £30m by 2021,” he said.
“None of the proposals include any library closures, or even reduced hours, and every effort would be made to lessen the impact on our service users.”
The campaigners want to raise awareness of the impact the loss of staff and staffed library hours will have on communities in Lewisham, and to fight for improvements in the library service.
They highlighted the role played by library staff in supporting young and elderly people, programming cultural and educational events, helping people develop their literacy skills, and more.
Dr Alice Corble, library professional and campaigner said: “Lewisham borough has one of the youngest and fastest-growing populations in London. Reducing what’s left of the already decimated library service is a crime against the next generation.”
Lewisham Council acknowledged these cuts would hurt local residents.
The council’s budget proposal noted that cuts to staffed opening hours would “greatly reduce access to digital support and information services.”
As the council increasingly moves its services online, library staff provide vital support to residents using their computers. This includes help with job seeking, online forms, school admissions, parking permits, and printing services.
The proposal also predicted an increase of antisocial behaviour in the library spaces.
The council will be consulting on the proposals from 30 November 2018 to 28 January 2019.
Since 2010, more than 478 libraries have closed in England, Wales and Scotland, with many others turning to volunteers to help run services.
“The time is ripe to draw a line and turn it around,” Jupp said. “We’re not just fighting against the cuts, we want improvements to a much valued service.”
A ‘Save the Arts and Libraries’ march is taking place in London on November 3. It will go past London cultural landmarks to finish with a rally in Parliament Square.
by Bethan John