Feb 23 2012 By Jessica Thompson
LIBRARIES in Kensal Rise, Barham Park, Tokyington, Preston Road, Cricklewood and Neasden are now just shells after Brent Council emptied them of books and equipment.
It is a huge disappointment for a huge number of library users who have invested so much emotion in a spectacular fight against a council under pressure from a lack of funds during a time of austerity.
The group Brent SOS Libraries has been tirelessly campaigning in this landmark case, which has attracted attention from all over the country – and other parts of the world.
But another blow was struck this week as Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, refused to investigate the closure of Brent libraries, despite receiving more than 10,000 complaints from aggrieved members of the public.
Campaigners have just 14 days to respond to his decision.
There have already been several high-profile defeats at the High Court, which have been a huge blow to Brent SOS Libraries, and to campaigners in other local authorities who were hoping that this landmark case would pave the way for their own legal battles.
But the spirit among the campaigners is unbowed despite the setbacks, with volunteers running a pop-up service outside Preston Road Library and Kensal Rise Library, and holding fundraising events such as quiz nights and themed parties.
It is a common complaint in modern society that community spirit has died, but it seems to be alive and well in Brent and there are no signs of any let-up.
Samantha Warrington, of Brent SOS Libraries, said: “As far as Brent SOS Libraries is concerned, we still want the Secretary of State for Culture, media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, to hold a public inquiry into Brent’s library closures, which are not based on the needs of those living, working and studying in the borough, as required by the Libraries and Museums Act 1964. He was ‘minded’ not to hold a public inquiry, which is disappointing.
“We are submitting yet more evidence to his department in the coming week and are taking advice from our legal team on the options available to us.”
In the meantime, former Preston Library members are continuing to hold fundraising events, as they have done for the past year, and have set up a charitable company, called Preston Community Library, to provide the much-used pop-up library service for children and adults at events.
Ms Warrington added: “This clearly demonstrates a need for a library service in the Preston area. We are also seeking volunteers so we can extend this service.”
Brent SOS Libraries will respond to Mr Hunt shortly, on the grounds that library services are now no longer open to the very people who used and valued them.
A spokesman for the campaign said: “With the largest library – Willesden Green – to be bulldozed this year in a separate plan [the new Willesden Green Cultural Centre], a comprehensive and accessible Brent library service is looking increasingly like a thing of the past.
“Fifty per cent of libraries were closed in October 2011, leading to a loss of 211 hours of service,
compared with an increase of just 23 hours. Overcrowding and poor transport links have ensured distant libraries are inaccessible to more residents than ever before.”
The campaign has also gained the support of a number of celebrities, including Jacqueline Wilson, Esther Rantzen, Depeche Mode, Goldfrapp and the Pet Shop Boys, many of whom have personally contributed to the soaring costs of the legal fight.
Many library users have felt so moved by the situation they have plastered a board put up by the council around Preston Library with messages of anger and frustration, dubbed ‘The Wall of Shame’ by campaigners.
A council spokesman said: “We understand the strength of feeling among residents about Brent’s library transformation programme but, as the Supreme Court and two previous court rulings have all proved, our decision to review the service was thoroughly lawful, well considered and in the best interests of the people of Brent.
“We are now well into bringing our plans to fruition for improving and developing a better service, which includes seven-day-a-week opening, and are looking forward to delivering a packed programme of events and activities at our libraries for spring and summer.
“By 2014/15, we expect Brent’s libraries to have had more visits and be lending more books than they did last year.”
To find out more about Preston Library campaigner’s World Book Day event on Thursday, March 1, see bit.ly/PrestonLibraryCampaign or for more information about the campaign, go to www.brentsoslibraries.org.uk/sos/.
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