Camden 'grows' by cutting costs;Open all hours;TES Campaign;The TES library campaign;Briefing;Analysis

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
If the residents of the London borough of Camden can't save their public libraries from closure, then the rest of the country has no chance. Although the campaign group had widespread grassroots support, it could also call on north London luminaries such as Jonathan Miller, Harry Enfield, Alan Bennett, Joan Bakewell and Jonathan Ross.

Last month, the Camden Public Library Users Group (CPLUG) won a historic victory by forcing the Labour-controlled council to delay closure of three libraries until January and in the meantime carry out a full consultation on its controversial restructuring plans.

After a highly-charged debate at a council meeting on June 22, 12 Labour councillors voted with the opposition to force a delay to plans agreed last February.

The council intended to close branch libraries in Kilburn, Belsize Park and Chalk Farm, but increase opening hours at others to 48 hours a week, provide mobile libraries and promote two libraries as centres of excellence. These measures would reduce costs by around pound;850,000 over five years.

Tom Selwyn, who chairs the user group, said there had been a "gradual but relentless decline" in the library budget of 60 per cent in real terms since 1971, along with various attempts to close libraries. Even Melvyn Bragg, who chaired the users' group of the Shaw library in Euston Road, lost the fight to keep it open in 1992.

In April, Professor Selwyn's group made an official complaint to Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, claiming that Camden was failing in its duty to provide an efficient and comprehensive library service under the terms of the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act by rushing through the closure plans. But to the group's dismay, Mr Smith decided early last month that the council's plans would not result in a breach of the Act.

The council will announce detailed plans for consultation on the planned closures later this month, and Professor Selwyn's group is gearing itself up to win the next battle.

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