Sat, Dec 17, 2011 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Londoners fight closure of historic library


Banners hang outside the closed Kensal Rise Library in London, England, on Nov. 13.

Photo: AFP

Kensal Rise library was opened by Mark Twain in 1900 — and how it could do with the support of the great American man of letters now to fight off its threatened extinction as government cuts bite.

The red-brick Victorian building has closed its doors and it will be shut down permanently unless a determined campaign organized by residents of the multi-ethnic district of north London can save it.

Signs attached to the walls proclaim “Save our library” and “Let us run our library,” and volunteers have even organized a temporary “pop-up” library next door to try to fill the gap, using books donated by local residents.

Kensal Rise is among six of 12 libraries in the London borough of Brent that the local council has decided it must close to make savings to help it meet sweeping -public-spending cuts imposed by the British government.

In fact, it is one of more than 400 public libraries in Britain — 10 percent of the total — set to fall victim to council cuts as British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government attempts to slash a budget deficit.

The council also claims the library is underused, but the residents of Kensal Rise reject that argument and claim the closure of the library would hit the poorest hardest.

“Everyone was pretty shocked. It’s a building that has a lot of value in the community,” Paula Gomez said.

“Everyone was very upset. People with children use it a lot, but not only them — people come to read the newspapers, use the computers, unemployed people use it to look for work. Children also come after school to do their homework,” Gomez said.

A blog has been launched, and a succession of meetings and fundraising concerts held.

Renowned writers, including White Teeth author Zadie Smith and Philip Pullman, have lent their support, as have music stars Nick Cave, Goldfrapp, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys.

However, so far their campaign in Kensal Rise has failed to have an effect.

In October, the courts ruled that the closure of the six libraries was legal, but residents immediately launched an appeal.

In Kensal Rise, the activists were determined to prevent the council from boarding up the library, posting a 24-hour rota of volunteers in front of the building to stop the workmen moving in.

Eventually the council agreed that it would hold off until the legal process is complete.

At the Court of Appeal, supporters of the libraries have claimed that closing them will discriminate against groups such as the large South Asian origin population in the borough.

Meanwhile, the council has said it intends to renovate the remaining libraries and it is even building a new library to replace the six closed facilities, which is scheduled to open in 2013.

As they wait anxiously for the outcome of their appeal, the Kensal Rise protesters can at least take heart from the success of protest campaigns elsewhere in the country.

Libraries in Somerset in southwest England and Gloucestershire in the west have won legal battles against closure.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary inquiry is looking into the legality of the library closures and the effect on the surrounding communities.

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