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Highgate Library relocation to a spot in Jackson's Lane

There is a useful blog on the Crouch End Neighbourhood Forum (CENF) website about a plan to move Highgate Libraryfrom its present location (1 Shepherd's Hill) into an as yet unspecified area of the perpetually hard up Jackson's Lane Arts Centre (JLAC).

As hard as the author of the CENF piece tries to remain neutral in tone ("taking a watchful interest.") he can't help but point out that "JL’s claims of transforming library services and a grand £7m mediatheque tend a little toward post hoc justification  . . . . " which tends a little towards understatement. The whole proposal depends entirely on post hoc justification - the main strands of which are 1) JLAC will get its matched funding  2) Haringey will ditch a further aging [sic] asset(?liability?) in the West of the borough and 3) oh, yes, there will still be a library of some sort.

But all this does seem a little bit arse about face. Broadly speaking Haringey seems to like libraries, and is attempting to preserve a library service. I like libraries. I am a nerdy, anti-social misanthrope, so the kind of library I like is a still, calm silent place, full of books and similarly like minded nerdy non-communicators - the sort of library that no longer exists. Libraries have moved on to reflect the changing times and so have I. I now indulge my own personal preferences at home with a computer and an internet connection. 

The decision on Highgate Library surely should not depend the JLAC pos-hoccery. It should be part of a positive co-ordinated strategy to ensure that libraries remain up-to-date and relevant. The report I've found is a review from 2014 which you can get to from this page. One of the bullet points reads:

  • Opening hours – need to be reviewed and explore options for sharing space with other services to optimise the space

which is at leaseconsistent with the proposed move, but, not , I think, entirely strategic.

The report to Cabinet also suggests that: there is a lot going on in libraries which goes well beyond books and information. How JLAC would contribute to this is not made entirely clear.

Tags: highgate library, jacksons lane, relocation

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The Highgate Library Action Grouphas produced a statement of their position on the proposal. Their position remian neutral until the detail of the proposal is released on June 22nd.

Adrian, all we are likely to see today are physical options as described by an architect. This is not the same as economic or financial feasibility which surely cannot have been assessed already. It is at that point that the hardest questions are likely to be asked.

If it doesn't meet some form of business case (for Jacksons Lane), then the whole proposal would fall away.

Public Libraries News gives the possible relocation a mention, under editorial which suggests that library usage is increasing in America where they spend twice as much as we do on them.

Another article sets out a series of headings under which libraries function.

1) Social Welfare. 
2) Literacy. 
3) Employment. 
4) Culture. 
5) Health. 
6) Democracy. 
7) Digital Inclusion, Business Development.

Well, I went to the meeting last night - an entirely exhausting and disappointing event - with Jacksons Lane and their architect presenting to an entirely hostile crowd of Highgate Library supporters. Probably inevitable I suppose, as were the speeches, most of which served to support the idea of libraries, without making too many coherent arguments over why this particular building was required (other than, it is nice - which it is - and it has a garden - which it does).

I noted the complete absence of any representation by Haringey council (or the local councillors of Crouch End ward, which the branch library is in), who have now completely resiled from any sense of accountability, and refuse to entertain even the worthless brand of consultation they normally indulge in. Once again, the Haringey culture of bunker dwelling antipathy to local communities is undermining their legitimacy.

Meanwhile the crowd's hostility served to elbow aside any discussion of the future of libraries in the borough (which is not unimportant), and the prospect of severe cuts to opening hours (less likely in a relocated library?) was unexplored.

It also curtailed an assessment of the space survey carried out by the architect. Which was particularly annoying as therein lay the key decisions, and crucially the Jacksons Lane people were not questioned about the impact of ceding so much of their studio space to a library. Surely there must be a significant internal discussion going on, and real doubts about whether the building is in fact large enough to house two institutions. I wasn't convinced.

And finally, in among the audience's passive aggressive virtue-signalling, there was also some discussion of the secret conspiracy of Haringey to construct tower blocks on the site and surrounding areas of green space, said to be the "real agenda". As I say, exhausting and disappointing.

So, will it happen?

If left to Haringey, most definitely - but the scheme will require real resolve and leadership from Jacksons Lane, and I wonder, given the drawbacks (and the probability of success in their arts council bid even without the re-location), whether it's worth the candle for them.

And the future of Highgate Library without the move? Cuts, increasing non-viability, growing reliance on an aging clientele followed by a re-location in a redeveloped Gonnermann antiques emporium.

I went to the 11 am meeting yesterday morning. I found the personal animosity, the digging ever deeper of entrenched positions, and the almost complete inability of anyone to either explain or understand whatever it was they were trying to explain or understand, really rather entertaining. 

Apart from that , I think all Mark's points are valid. 

Cllrs Hare and Carter were both present at the morning session. Neither, as Mark points out, is a councillor for the Crouch End ward in which the beleaguered library rests, though both are for the Highgate ward (*) which is home to the apparently predatory JLAC. JLAC already has approval for a scheme without the library, though the Arts Council has put up the £24,000 required to carry out this feasibility study. There was also a rather silent council officer at the morning meeting.

The sequence of events seems to have been:

1) JLAC put in a bid for some Arts Council money and are successful

2) as an afterthought JLAC come up with the library idea - because the bid to the Arts Council is matched funding, the more they can put up, the more they get

3) some chatter ensues between some of the groups interested in the library, JLAC, architecture, heritage etc but no real agreement is reached

4) Haringey spot a bandwagon and leap on it and agree the idea in principle - brilliant opportunity to offload an ageing asset whilst apparently supporting a boost in funding for the Arts and a library

Next step

5) Haringey produce a feasibility report which says 'Yes' - and the idea goes ahead?

(*) how little sense the boundary commission makes of some of its changes. The top fo Shepherds Hill is in Crouch End while the Maynard on Park Road is in Muswell Hill

The notes I took at the meeting clearly record someone as having said that the Arts Council are paying for the feasibility study, though I have since been informed that it is Haringey who are paying. This would reinforce my thoughts on steps 4 and 5 above.

I understand that the Lib Dem opposition has called-in the in-principle decision to relocate the library

The highlight of tonight's Council-run engagement session was undoubtedly the spot by a member of the public of a small omission in the Council's Vision for the future of Highgate Library.

The Vision statement—that's been touted by the Council—was displayed on an overhead projector and comprised seven bullet points, the last one of which had about four sub-points.

However, the word "book" was absent and "reading" from said statement.

I rest my case, your honour.

(Chaired by Crouch End Cllr. and Cabinet Member Jason Arthur, who re-confirmed the Cabinet's earlier decision to refuse to hold a Public Consultation on the matter. We were told that a switch and sale of Muswell Hill Library was totally different thing to a switch and sale of Highgate Library. Believe it if you wish).



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