Page last updated at: Wed, 18 January 2012 15:57 PM GMT Printable version

London super libraries defy public spending cuts

by Petter Lundgren

Outside the Newly constructed library at Canada WaterAs hundreds of libraries are threatened with closure across the UK, three new London ‘super libraries’ are bucking that trend in time for National Libraries Day on February 4.

Three impressive, multi-million pound libraries are opening within the space of two months in Southwark, Lewisham and Hackney.

In late November, Southwark’s Canada Water Library opened in Surrey Quays.

The ‘inverted pyramid’ building, designed by CZWG Architects cost £14m and will host theatre performances by performing arts venue, The Albany.

Community hubs

As part of the £24m award-winning Deptford Lounge complex, another ‘super library’ opened in Lewisham on January 4.

It too collaborates with The Albany and aims to be “a living room in the city”.

Having cut library staff by a quarter last year, Hackney completes the trio.

Its new £4m rebuild; the Dalston CLR James Library will open, after a slight delay, on January 23.

At almost 3,000 square meters over three floors, it will be twice the size of the old building.

The councils take great pride in their investments and all three talk about “community hubs” and “centers for learning”.

Catherine Simonds of Southwark Council says that libraries can be a “lifeline for some who may feel isolated without a community hub to meet other people.”

The future of libraries?

Ian Anstice
“If students don't get involved then that's shocking. Go to your local library. Tell the staff there you appreciate what they do.”

While welcoming good news, campaigners feel that the openings may gloss over the gloomy future of libraries.

“There has never been a worse time for public libraries in the UK.  When you're facing a 27% cut over three years, with no allowance made for inflation at a further 5% per year, we take any light we can,” says Ian Anstice.

Anstice, librarian and author of publiclibrariesnews.com, told ALN that a few ‘super libraries’ cannot replace all local libraries, if those are shut:

“They do not serve truly local communities – you need to have at  least some money to get to them, which is a big consideration  for the elderly and the unemployed. They take longer to get to  than a local branch. That's a big consideration for a schoolchild.   Three major clients of public libraries are excluded right there.”

Anstice urges students to recognise National Libraries Day: “If  students don't get involved then that's shocking. Go to your local  library. Tell the staff there you appreciate what they do.”

Similarly, Mark Taylor from CILIP hopes everyone gets involved,  “On 4th February take a little bit out of your day to discover your  library - use it, join it, love it.”

The organisers are also inviting people to tweet their thoughts with hashtag: #NLD12.


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