friern barnet library

In current events, the Friern Barnet Library, a local branch library in London, makes for a really interesting case study. This library, along with 270 other branch libraries in England, was closed due to economic and budgetary constraints. Coinciding with this closure, the British government also changed the laws of squatting residential buildings now to be a criminal offense on September 1st. As a result of these two conditions, a group of squatters and political activists has broken in and squatted the closed Friern Barnet Library. But not only are they using the building for residential purposes and as a political statement, they actually re-opened the library and are managing it entirely with volunteer labor, with much support of the local neighborhood, as it is seen as an important community fixture. I believe that there are real estate developers interested in acquiring this land as well, demonstrating the pressure that land value and privatization has on the future of this common institution. The references from the news are found below:

Story from The Guardian (9-11-12).

Editorial by Pete Phoenix, one of the squatters (The Guardian, 9-13-12).

Story from the BBC, 9-13-12).

I find this story interesting for a number of reasons. It demonstrates how certain events and changes in conditions (i.e. the libraries closing, the change in squatting laws, real estate pressures, perhaps also the influence of the local and global occupy movements) can act as catalysts for change. It also is a real life example of how squatting and occupation can have an affect on and gain the support of the diverse surrounding community, instead of being an isolated, esoteric movement. It is also interesting that the resulting newly managed library exists and is organized into a new sort of informal public sphere. It is current events, so it is yet to be determined, but I believe they are in negotiations with the city council and, though the library is autonomously organized and run, it may also have some connection to the existing library organization. I am interested to see what becomes of this movement.

Below is a timeline diagram showing the ownership, occupation, and use of the library over a period of time. The green volume is the city ownership of the library, which gets more transparent when it is closed. The blue planes are the squatters’ occupation, which is, for now, relatively unstable and from moment-to-moment. The red cylinders are the public use of the facility, which is discontinuous and stops when the city closed the library and restarts when the squatters reopened it.

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