Carnegie Blues – and it’s not just the cold

Writer Rae Stoltenkamp on returning to the re-opened Carnegie library near her home in Herne Hill

Rae Stoltenkamp (right) with Ruskin Readers member Tracey Cameron
Rae Stoltenkamp (right) with Ruskin Readers member Tracey Cameron

I’ve been avoiding Carnegie Library since Lambeth council announced its so-called re-opening.

This morning I was forced into the ravaged building to attend a meeting. As a representative of the charity Ruskin Readers, I went to find out if there’s any hope of this ousted community group returning to the library.

Standing in the icy entry way I have serious doubts. Once beyond the swing doors my fears are not allayed. Where are the librarians? Well, you’ll have to ring a number for their assistance. Hands-on librarians will only be available at limited specified times – notified by a leaflet posted on a pillar.

Together with myself and the three other meeting attendees, there are 12 people in the library. Three of them are security guards – one nursing two standing heaters, another patrolling in an Arctic-style parka, a third – statuesque in a body warmer – acts as bouncer at the entrance to what used to be the wonderful wildlife garden.

The lack of people emphasises how much our community has lost by the closure of this much-loved building for far too long.

My Raynaud’s Syndrome flares, despite the fact I’m wearing my obligatory fingerless gloves. There’s no way I can remove my coat or beret during the course of the meeting.

Besides this, I’m welling up as I remember previous vibrant Saturday mornings spent teaching an Inkhead course here, or just catching up with people during one of the regular tea and cake stalls run by the Friends. I’m heartbroken and inconsolable.

So what else is missing?

Well, there is no disabled access, no access to public toilets, no possibility of mums with prams gaining access, no kitchen.

And what, I wonder, lurks in the screened-off side rooms? I suspect damage to walls and floors from water ingress.

This is what Lambeth council considers a viable substitute to the wonderfully run Carnegie Library we once had.