Press Update: 25 July 2017
Yesterday: Barnet school children, aged 5-13, protest outside the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) about the loss of their independent access to libraries - and the Culture Secretary’s failure to act. Civil Servant finally meets them.
The lively and determined children held placards: “Staff keep us safe”, “Kids need independence + books”, “Where will I study now?” and “CCTV is not safety”. Another placard showed a no entry sign with the words “Under 16? No Entry”. They chanted:
“Don’t lock us out, it makes us want to shout!”
“What does “refurbishment” mean to you? Sacking the staff and locking the loo!”
“1-2-3-4 Don’t lock our library door, 5-6-7-8 Stop what you’re doing, it’s not too late!”
In a hurried response, sent after the press release was issued last week, DCMS tried to put off Zara Lobley and her friends from coming, writing: “Unfortunately, the Secretary of State is not available to meet with you to receive the postcards produced by the schoolchildren from Martin Primary School in East Finchley. However, we would be happy to receive them in the post.”
But Zara, aged 11, says “I was very upset by the response from DCMS – like our views don’t matter. We will be blocked from using our library most of the time and the letter didn’t even mention this! Some of us are starting secondary school in September and we really need independent access!”
Tamba Kamanda, aged 10, says “My mum and dad work long hours- the same with many of my friends’ parents. We really need to be able to use the library on our own. My older brother who is about to start year 9 came to support the protest too.”
Ella Millen, aged 9 says “I met my best friend at the library when I was little. Now, when I am almost old enough to go on my own, I won’t be able to. It makes me feel very sad, like kids don’t matter”
Rees Lyon, aged 13 says “I remember when the library staff at East Finchley knew me by name – they would save me the Match Attack playing cards from the football magazine. Now even if I can get to the library in the staffed periods, we won’t have people we know and the teen reading room will be gone”.
Eve Harcus, aged 10 says “My mum always uses the library with my baby brother. Soon he will be too old for nappies. It’s not fair to close the toilets!”
After some hesitation, Colin Gibson a member of the Library Policy team at DCMS finally came down to receive the postcards. When questioned, he acknowledged the department’s delay and said “I can’t be sure when you will get a response. We have prepared advice for the Minister, but it’s her decision.”
Fergus Lyon aged 10 says “When the man from DCMS came down to see us, he seemed very nervous. I hope they see where they’ve gone wrong. How can they shut kids out and lock the toilets?”
Emily Burnham, a spokesperson for Save Barnet Libraries, a resident-led campaign, who helped to organise the protest says: “We have been appalled by DCMS’s delay. We sent a detailed complaint in December 2016 and they haven't done anything about it. We also asked our MP, Mike Freer for help, but it’s clear that he and the other Barnet MPs have been very unwilling to support residents' concerns about the dismantling of our library service".
The children also issued an invitation to the Minister or a member of the library team to come to East Finchley and see what it actually feels like to have a cramped library you can visit for only a few hours a week.