UPDATE Sign the petition on Barnet council’s website here.

By Deborah Warland

Barnet Council have announced plans to save £1.41 million from their library budget over the next three years. Our library in Marketplace, which has been in its current location for some 60 years, is the only one of 16 in the borough which is set to shut down completely. This, despite the fact that it provides a very valuable service to the community, particularly to young children and the elderly.

While it is claimed that our Suburb library is the second costliest to run, one of the reasons cited being that the premises are the only ones in the borough which are leased from a private landlord, our investigations have shown that the rent for 2010/11 is only £10,532 p.a., just 7.6% of its total costs. What however is very disturbing is the fact that over £57,000 or 41% of the total overheads is being charged to us by way of “central” Barnet library charges. To determine what savings are indeed possible, without prejudicing the quality of the service, surely any cost projections must be calculated on a “like with like” basis? Moreover, contrary to the claim by one of our local councillors that “the lease is essentially a short term one, so that there would be no further rent to pay if the library closes”, we have discovered that the lease is not scheduled to expire until 2021! No one we asked was willing to answer the question “what would be the expense if the lease were terminated before this date?”

The “alternative” proposal, currently under discussion, would involve a move of the stock from our library to The Institute premises (next to East Finchley tube station) and the installation of a self-service machine — presumably dispensing with the librarians?

If there are to be cost savings as a result of such a move, surely these could only be achieved by a “rent free” agreement with The Institute. Is that a realistic proposition? We also have to assume that in their calculations Barnet Libraries would have to continue to allocate the same proportion of central costings to any new venue. Again, we have tried to discover the details of this potential arrangement but no reply has been forthcoming. This is all before one asks how many of the current Suburb library users — particularly the elderly and the mums with pushchairs, would be willing or able to make the journey to this new location — nearly a mile away from Marketplace?

When Barnet published their cost saving plans for the libraries they said that there would be a 10 week period of consultation. This finishes on June 13th so there is still plenty of time for everyone who feels strongly about the need to protect our local library to make their feelings known, before it’s too late. You can do so in the following ways:

Go to hgs.org.uk and sign our petition (we will also be campaigning in Marketplace and Temple Fortune with petitions to sign)

Write or email to our local Councillors and encourage your friends and neighbours to do the same

Write or email to Tom Pike, Head of Libraries, London Borough of Barnet - [email protected]

Go to engage.barnet.gov.uk and follow the links to fill in their questionnaire and to read the Strategic Library Review documentation. Or pick up a paper questionnaire from our Marketplace library.

Finally, many thanks to all those who have already pledged their support and particularly to Karen and Neville Silver for their intrepid search for the facts.