A future vision of Highgate Library and Jacksons Lane
This blogpost has been written by Highgate resident and Jacksons Lane trustee Adam Garfunkel.
When I look at the potential to co-locate (not merge) Jacksons Lane and Highgate Library I get really excited. I know my excitement is not shared by everyone and that the plans to co-locate Highgate Library with Jacksons Lane have raised concerns. Some people hate the idea of losing the current library building and I appreciate that. But co-locating the library with the arts centre is a unique, one-off opportunity to draw more people to a modernized library service that will secure its future.
Local governments are starved of cash. According to Catherine West, by 2020 Haringey Council will have roughly 30% of the budget it had in 2010. Cuts of that magnitude place enormous pressure on council services and facilities.
Here in Highgate we value our council services and we value the library. And I know that many people have fought long and hard over the years to keep it open. I applaud their endeavours. I too have opposed unwelcome local developments. I too have campaigned to stop unwanted closures of local services.
But what Jacksons Lane is proposing is not a closure. It’s not the end of anything – in fact it’s the beginning of something new. An idea that could drive a transformation for our neighbourhood, a modernization of the library service, a refurbishment of the Jacksons Lane building and the creation of a new, vibrant cultural hub for Highgate.
Haringey has said it is committed to keeping its library service. But at the Highgate Library Action Group AGM on 24 May, we also heard from council leader Claire Kober that if push came to shove, she would support the continuation of the service over the building. And that makes sense given how little money Haringey has now.
Anyone who cares about the library has to fight not only to keep it open, but also plan to keep it relevant
Co-locating is best practice
And of course services with declining numbers of users like Highgate Library are always going to be at more risk than others.
The Carnegie Trust, founded by that great champion of libraries the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, recently issued a report on the future of libraries.
At the report launch in April, the trust’s chief executive Martin Evans said:
“We know that the future success of public libraries depends on how effectively they respond to the changing needs of their communities...”
He went on to say:
“The reasons why some libraries succeed are varied but include: new buildings, co-location with other services, additional services, good book stock availability, accessibility, open spaces and much more.”
Similarly, the Libraries Taskforce that comprises people from the world of libraries, councils, the arts and central government, has also encouraged libraries to explore opportunities to co-locate. They identify the benefits as including improving access and skill-sharing.
So co-locating in a refurbished (as new) building would be a smart, best-practice response to meeting some of Highgate Library’s pressing needs to increase accessibility and visitor numbers. With the caveat that it has to work for both parties and that’s what the feasibility study is exploring. So when the Highgate Library Action Group voted at their AGM to continue to be part of the study, it demonstrated the group’s sense of stewardship for the library.
Making it possible to modernise the library service
Most people can now access all the information they want and more via the internet and can read books in digital formats on their Kindles. The original purpose of libraries as repositories of knowledge not available elsewhere has changed with the internet. How to respond to digitization is a big question facing libraries everywhere.
The library of the future is one that helps people efficiently access information and learning, whatever format that information is in. Libraries can even become ‘laboratories’ where people can test out and learn how to use new technologies.
The French have a great word for this vision of a modern library: médiathèque. A place where people can use content in different media – one of which is books. What about video editing? What about digital training rooms? There are libraries around the world now that are embracing this vision of a modern library.
Moving from the old library would release funds for this kind of creative response to the digitization challenge and position Highgate Library as an exemplar of best practice. Isn’t that an exciting opportunity to consider?
Together we can explore joined-up programming where our 166-seat theatre hosts literary events linked to particular new books or festivals
Exploring a better library and arts experience
But it’s much more than that as well. It’s also about the synergies with what Jacksons Lane does. And with nearly 4,000 people coming into Jacksons Lane every week – how might that improve library visitor numbers and the experience of those visitors?
Well, together we can explore joined-up programming where our 166-seat theatre hosts literary events linked to particular new books or festivals. Or ‘meet the author’ events tied to popular titles within our family theatre programme. Or performances ‘bringing books to life’ that can draw more people into the library.
We can even explore sources of funding we can access together. The Arts Council is now the development agency for public libraries and are ‘investing in projects delivered by public libraries or library authorities working in partnership with artists and cultural organisations’. There is up to £100,000 available there. As an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation, Jacksons Lane knows what they are looking for. This is an exciting area where we can collaborate and extend provision for both library users and our visitors.
Let’s explore a transformed future together
Jacksons Lane has already made a compelling case to the Arts Council for a capital injection of £2.5 million for our own refurbishment, completely independent of the library. But were it feasible for the library to co-locate with us, we can foresee a more ambitious £7-7.5 million refurbishment of the centre. That includes money to create a Highgate Library that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. Furthermore we are committed to at least matching the size of the current library space and far from it being dark and dingy, our award-winning architect would only create a beautiful, bright space.
That would mean the library moving from the much-loved current building. I get that would be a wrench. I get the mindset that says ‘let’s protect what we have’.
But I’m more interested in enhancing what we have. I’m an optimist – I imagine things being different – transformed even. Building on the good things we have today – absolutely – and using that as a springboard to imagine something new for tomorrow.
There’s lots of exciting potential from joint programming, collaborating on funding bids, and ultimately designing a refurbished space that is transformative for both organisations. I genuinely believe that one and one can make three here.
Anyone who cares about the library has to fight not only to keep it open, but also plan to keep it relevant. How amazing to create a fund of £1 million or more to do that for Highgate Library in a custom-designed space!
The feasibility study is ongoing. We invite those who genuinely care about Highgate Library to take part in that discussion with an open mind. Let’s imagine the future and see whether it’s right to create it together. We don’t know if any of this is feasible at Jacksons Lane, but it has to be a conversation worth having, right?
Next public engagement events: 11am and 6.30pm on Thursday 22 June 2017.
Meet at Jacksons Lane for building tours at 11am and 6.30pm, followed by discussions at Highgate Library