“What is more important than anything else in a library is the fact that it exists” – Archibald Macleish
Wandsworth Council, as part of the cuts falling from the Comprehensive Spending Review, are considering closing York Gardens Library. York Gardens Library is in the most deprived ward in Wandsworth: Latchmere. I live less than a mile away, in the least deprived ward in Wandsworth: Northcote. With this in mind, I had a look at the council’s equality impact assessment.
Battersea, Battersea Park and Northcote libraries are included since they are the three nearest libraries and the council argue that if York Gardens closes, people will simply travel to their nearest library instead. Wandsworth council’s own equality impact assessment highlights that York Gardens has three times as many black users than the borough average, and 7.5 times as many as nearby Northcote library. This is the case all the more for children and young people. The equality impact assessment states:
“Usage of the Library reflects the character of the surrounding population, where people of non British white ethnicity, mixed ethnicity, Asian and Black African and Caribbean ethnicity accounted for 51% of the population in 2001. These groups make more use of the Library than white British people. The use of the Library by Black African and Caribbean people is particularly noticeable.”
I don’t even have to make an argument here. The council’s data speaks for itself. The same applies to women, and those with disabilities (especially learning disabilities):
Aside from demographic statistics, the most convincing, and heartbreaking argument to save York Gardens comes from the survey of why people use the library. Apologies for the deluge of bulletpoints, but this is all vital:
“York Gardens library is particularly important to children compared to other libraries. Children and Young People using this library are also appreciably older than those using other libraries – 50% are in the 11 – 15 yr age group compared to the borough figure of 19%. The comparable figure for Northcote library is 11%.
- 45% of children visiting York Gardens library came with friends or on their own compared to a borough average of 18%, reflecting the neighbourhood character of the library that it is accessible from local housing without crossing any major roads and the older age profile using this library. Using the alternative libraries would involve journeys along and across busy main roads.
- 40% of children come to use a computer compared to a borough average of 19%. [Northcote Library10%] and of those 48% use them specifically for homework compared to 22% in the borough at large. [Northcote Library 7%].
- 49% of children and young people come to do homework compared to a borough average of 17% [Northcote Library 8%]
- 35% borrow books for homework (borough average 15%) and 41% because ‘I want to get better at reading’ (borough average 30%) [Northcote Library 6% and 20%]
- 49% of those who use the library to do their homework do so because it provides somewhere quiet to work [Northcote Library 10%]. Other answers to this question reinforce the importance of the library as a resource for studying.
- 59% of children and young people considered the library had helped them to do better at school [Northcote Library 15%] – the highest response of any library in the borough.”
So to summarise, York Gardens library is used heavily by teenagers, especially black teenagers, who use it for schoolwork, to feel better about themselves by reading, and to use computers. They often go with friends, highlighting the importance of the library to the community and the nearby Kambala estate. Closing York Gardens would mean the children and young people who use it would have to travel further, across busy main roads, to areas of the borough they are unfamiliar with, instead of doing homework with their friends in the evening. Were Northcote library to close, I honestly think the impact on the children nearby would be minimal. Were Northcote chosen, however, the very vocal, savvy affluent residents would secure maximum coverage for such a closure. Northcote residents needn’t worry, though. Wandsworth Council spent £13m on building them a free school only last month. Closing York Gardens will save the council a mere £219,000. If they do so, they will have to provide an outreach service, taking the savings down to £127,000. This would cause council tax to rise by less than a pound a year. Even that is irrelevant, however: Eric Pickles slammed Wandsworth council recently for hoarding £105m in reserves. The council are victimising the poorest in the borough, to make ideological cuts, simply because they think Latchmere residents won’t put up a fight.
The best argument not to close York Gardens however, is the residents, in their own words.
If you can, join us tomorrow(Saturday 5th February), at 1pm for a Read-in to protest against the proposed closure.