Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Save Bob Lawrence Library - An open letter to Harrow Council.

The open letter below is from a library campaigner in Harrow who along with others is trying to prevent the closure of their local library.

They have also set up an online petition;

An open letter to the Harrow Council

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the Bob Lawrence Library on Mollison way was earmarked for possible closure due to budget cuts. I was extremely disappointed to hear this as it is the closest and most conveniently located library for this community.

Libraries are a resource for education, a venue for socializing, a community and cultural building establishment and a low cost channel for a whole host of facilities beyond just borrowing books.

I embarked on a campaign to save the Bob Lawrence Library two weeks ago and have been actively gathering support through signed petitions both online and offline. So far I have managed to gather over 600 signatures from people who want to keep the library.

Over the last two weeks, I have come to understand how important the library is to our little community and how many people are dependent on it.

I have come across so many people who will be affected by the closure of this establishment.

An eight year old boy comes to the library because his mother cannot afford a computer. He comes here to complete his assignments. He's not the only one.

A woman shared that she is upgrading her skills to make a better life for her family. The library staff taught her how to use the computer so that she can complete her teaching diploma. She is at the library 3 times a day. The staff are like her family.

A number of elderly people are at the library every morning. The walk to the library is their morning exercise, they spend a few hours at the library flipping through Gujarati books and socializing. They tell me that it keeps body and mind active.

A young mother of two children under 2 is a regular at Rhyme Time. It's her outlet to meet other young mothers. Her two little ones will only make it to nursery when she gets the 15 hours free. She can't afford a nursery without the free hours.

These are only a handful of stories. I have so many more heart wrenching stories to share.

Let me introduce you to our library users -

1. Between 20 - 30 toddlers regularly visit this library 3 times a week for the Rhyme Time sessions. They laugh and they sing and they stay on to color. The young mothers meet other mothers and exchange stories/ideas on parenting.

The grand parents watch as their grand children jump up and down to "5 cheeky monkeys" and many other popular nursery rhymes. Most of the nurseries in the area have a minimum age of 2 making this a popular venue for engaging and stimulating the under 2 year olds in a fun social setting.

2. There are multiple nurseries within a 10 minute walk to the library. These nurseries regularly visit the libraries, children in toll to develop an early interest in reading and a love for books. Often the library conducts adhoc rhyme time sessions and story telling specifically for the local nurseries.

3. Children from at least 3 schools visit the library after school. It provides a great resource especially in terms of literature, arts and history. In the age of technology, they prefer to skim through books. To them, digital compliment libraries, it does not replace them as a resource for knowledge.

4. Many of the older people in the community come to the library to flip through magazines and read newspapers. They socialize with friends. There is no other place on this parade of shops  for this group of people to sit indoors and connect with other people.

They will not be represented in the very expensive survey that the council is conducting because the survey is 10 pages of questions and for many of these people, English  is not a 1st language. It's an English only survey in a community that is predominantly non-English speaking! Will the feedback and information from this exercise really represent the community sentiments?

It's a poor community. They need the library to stay open because it makes a difference to the quality of their lives! Something many of us take for granted.

I went to the in-person consultation session and was told that the council needs to make these cuts. Choose between social services for the old or the library. I should not have to make this choice. The council budget should be better managed without the community having to make sacrifices on basic needs & services.

Instead of spending thousands of pounds on the library survey, it should have been invested in increasing the traffic coming through the council managed libraries.

The alternative options provided are

1. Kingsbury library.  This is inconveniently located and difficult to get to. It's also managed by the Brent council. If Brent decides to make its own cuts and close this library the community will not be able to use this as an alternative source of library services.

2. Reducing the hours open. This will eventually mean restricted access to library which in turn will result in less footfall. So a year from now, we will be having the same discussion on relevance of keeping the library open based on traffic / usage numbers.

3. Self managed libraries with access cards and CCTV. In other words, the council is prepared to invest thousands of pounds in more technology and infrastructure for the handful of libraries to be kept open at the expense of the unlucky communities which will see their beloved library closed permanently with no viable alternative in sight.

The fate of the library rests on the feedback from the survey which is not representative of the community here. I can only hope that the council weighs out all considerations before determining whether this library should close its doors to our little community!

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