Save Friern Barnet Library campaigners are celebrating partial victory in their fight to save their local library, closed by Barnet Council in April 2012.
Barnet Council has agreed to give a two-year lease to a group from the community to continue running a library in the building. They had planned to sell the building.
This climbdown result from a two-year campaign by residents, given an added boost recently by Occupy London activists coming to squat the building. With the existing Save Friern Barnet Library Group, the squatters re-opened the library, stocked with donated books.
Throughout, the campaigners have demanded that the library remain integrated with Barnet’s libraries, staffed by library professionals, and paid for by the Council.
The squatters lost their case against eviction in December and were given a month to leave.
With time running out before the library was due to revert to the Council, the campaigners accepted, reluctantly, that the only way to save it for the time being was to put in a “community bid” to run a volunteer library. The Council has agreed, it seems, to pay £25,000 a year running costs.
The local Tory administration will try to paint this as a victory for the “Big Society” idea, but the campaigners reject such a spin. In a statement they say:
“... putting in place a paid librarian is a priority. ... the funding offered by the council does not cover a full time librarian, but as the two year lease is negotiated... this will be kept at the front of the conversation. We are strongly opposed to austerity and all the cuts, especially to the library service.”
Barnet Council has now moved to cut most of its professional librarians — keeping a proper library service in the borough will be a fight for all of us, not just for Friern Barnet.
The Labour group will have to be pushed to commit to reintegrating the library into Barnet Libraries should it win the 2014 council elections.
The partial victory of the Friern Barnet Library campaign is an inspiration to all anti-cuts campaigners, but we know that much remains to be fought for.