Kaye Wiggins reports from Saturday’s protest against cuts to library services
Abibat Olulode, who works at Brixton library, and Anna Tomlinson, from the library in Streatham, are among a group of around 100 people who staged a protest outside Brixton library yesterday. They say they have no idea what Lambeth council’s spending cuts will mean for the service because they haven’t been told.
“All I know is what I’ve read in the South London Press,” says Abibat. “But it’s obvious that there are going to be big cuts.”
She says she fears the library’s outreach services will be hardest hit by the cuts. “The money we get will be for our core service, so we will have to stop the other work,” she says. “This means things like literacy development activities, reading groups and programmes to help refugees. These services are for the more vulnerable people yet they’re being hit the hardest. That’s why we’re here to protest.”
The deputy leader of Lambeth Council, Jackie Meldrum, visited the library on the morning of the protest, but Abibat says this wasn’t enough to reassure the protesters. “I didn’t hear her, but I expect she just said what she always says – that we have to blame the cuts on the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in the government,” she says.
“I think she’s wrong about that. The council shouldn’t be complicit in finding mealy-mouthed ways to make these cuts. It should stand up to the government and demand more money.”
Rod Smith, a retired Unison member and a regular user of Brixton library, says he is worried about the council’s plans to transfer responsibility for running libraries to community groups, who would make greater use of volunteers to run the service.
“If you want libraries to be run properly, you need paid, trained staff,” he says. “Why should people’s public services be run by volunteers?
“The council is the biggest employer in Lambeth. It is setting a bad example by saying to other employers that it’s ok to let people work for free instead of paying professionals.”
Abibat points out that she has a masters degree in information service management. “How many of the volunteers will have that qualification?” she says. “They won’t, and they’ll quit when the work gets tough.”