Labour’s “approach” is to drastically cut the space, resources and staff at four of its 10 libraries – and call them “exciting neighbourhood libraries”. This was to save money. But they have saved nothing so far – while spending well over £7m extra (including a £3.5m hand-out to commercial company Cineworld and a £3m gym built for GLL – with library buildings rent-free for both!)
Lambeth Labour says: “Local community groups have praised Lambeth Labour’s approach to working with them to protect library services in the borough.” Who are these “community groups”?
The council didn’t ask the 10,000 people who signed our petition, or the 100s who have marched repeatedly in protest, or sent endless letters in vain, or the 2,000 people who jammed Windrush Square to support the Carnegie library occupation.
They didn’t ask any of the well-established Friends of libraries groups. They didn’t ask the eight community groups and the eight small businesses booted out of Carnegie Library with no notice and no help.
They didn’t ask the Carnegie Library Association, with 300+ voting members (including community groups!), who are seeing the building handed over not to them, but to an unelected “local trust” with no community contact at all – but close connections to Lambeth Labour.
No. The only “groups” they cite are two bodies being funded by Lambeth itself…
* the Oasis church Charitable Trust in Waterloo, which is paid to house a tiny “neighbourhood library”- and always made clear it did this reluctantly, as it was told (wrongly) that this was the only way to keep a library in Waterloo.
* the Upper Norwood Library Trust, whose “neighbourhood library hub” has run up enormous bills and is set to get even more money in future. The “neighbourhood library” concept has been an expensive failure. The reality so far is that you get a vastly inferior library, or a much more expensive one. Or both. No wonder it’s impossible to find a single real “community group” who supports them.
WATERLOO NEIGHBOURHOOD LIBRARY
It is kind of Oasis to host the Waterloo library – but it is now a quarter of its former size, with a consequent reduction in stock and space. Because it is housed by a church, it is closed for prolonged periods over Christmas, Easter and other times.
It is the worst performing library in the borough. It has seen book issues plummet. Visitor figures are wildly distorted by a machine that counts in hundreds who don’t use the library at all.
Defend the 10 volunteers monitored the library, every hour it was open, for a week (full report here). It is unwelcoming, cramped, noisy, impossible to read or study in, and easy to steal from.
With staff on hand for a maximum two hours a day, group activities are almost zero and the atmosphere is bleak. There is no sense of community. There is nobody to help the many users who need a librarian’s advice and encouragement. There’s no help for those who have problems with the various machines – PCs, photocopier, self-issue machine etc. There is nobody even to make sure that children are safe from adult strangers.
UPPER NORWOOD NEIGHBOURHOOD LIBRARY
Upper Norwood library is pleasant, and busy. It has lost “only” a quarter of its former space and nearly all its library staff. BUT it has so far cost FAR MORE to run than it did as a proper library. Lambeth’s “neighbourhood library” concept – spun as a cost-saving measure – has failed. The planned contribution from Lambeth was to be £60,000pa (matched by Croydon).
The real total (so far) includes: £85,000 pa from Lambeth for running costs (but with almost no library staff); £120,000+ to fund a local trust to run the building (on top of previous expenditure); £285,000 to refurbish for new use; an extra unplanned librarian for 35 hours a week.
The paid staff have included a fund-raiser for two years, to make the library self-funded from April 2018. This has failed. The library will be funded for another three years – another £117,000.
Meanwhile, with more money than it has ever had, Upper Norwood was the only library in Lambeth to charge kids to attend its Christmas party (£15).