A call to answer a faulty consultation

On November 24th Lambeth Council launched a consultation which could spell the end of Tate South Lambeth Library as a library – and very soon (before April next year).

Friends of TSL object to both the content and the implementation of this consultation. But we cannot afford to ignore it, for that would be to acquiesce in the death of TSL. So we encourage everyone who values our library to respond to the questionnaire.

So what are our objections?

We object to the wording of the questions, which is both confusing and misleading

The consultation asks

1) To what extent do you support or oppose the proposal that Durning Library will become the temporary town centre library?

2)    To what extent do you support or oppose the proposal that Tate South Library will offer reduced library provision and wider range of wellbeing activities within a healthy living centre?

The first question does not make it clear that in agreeing that Durning become the town centre (ie full service) library) you are also agreeing to the destruction of TSL as a library.

The second question gives a misleading picture of what is proposed for TSL. The “reduced library provision” will take the form of a small range of books, a machine for registering withdrawals and returns, and a computer. There will be no library staff on site. The “wider range of wellbeing activities” will be the services of a fee-charging gym, which will take up nearly all the space in the building. This means the end of the many valuable – and in some cases unique –services offered, free, at our library.

So we suggest that the public:

(1) Answer questions 1 and 2, with “strongly oppose”.

(2) Write in the space below these questions: “This document does not give us the option of stating our strong preference for Tate South Lambeth Library as the town centre library for the north.”

The response, at Tate South Lambeth Library or at Durning Library or online at www.lambeth.gov.uk/durning-and-tate-south-lambeth-libraries-consultation, has to be in by the deadline of 11pm on December 21st

We object to the absence of a straight choice between the two libraries for the role of town centre library for the north

We expected that a clear choice would be put, since the Culture 2020 report approved by the Council in November promised a “4 week consultation period … to help determine if Durning Library rather than Tate South Lambeth Library will provide a temporary fifth town centre library in the north of the borough until 2022”.

But the consultation does not mention a town centre for TSL.

At a meeting two weeks ago with Friends of both TSL and Durning, Councillor Jane Edbrooke, the person responsible for libraries policy, and Council officers responsible for its design, refused point blank to include a straight choice in the consultation.

The consultation is also not being distributed throughout the whole of the “north of the borough” – Bishop’s Ward and Vassal are left out. The inhabitants there surely should have been actively invited to have a say on the location of their single library.

Why are we so keen on a straight and transparent choice?

Because we know that, on any comparison between the performance and location of the two libraries, TSL is the obvious choice.

  • User visits to TSL run at three times the level at Durning.
  • The number of new memberships is running one third above those at Durning.
  • TSL hosts a much greater and more varied range of activities, including some – the sessions for the visually impaired and the classes in basic English for Portuguese speakers – that are unique and attract people from the whole borough.
  • The very much higher numbers using TSL means that, given that Council current spending there is just a little below that at Durning, it is a much more cost-effective library, with each visit to TSL costing just one third of what it does in Durning.
  • TSL is in a much more accessible location – on two bus routes, and close to the major bus, undergorund and rail transport hub at Vauxhall, with the new Nine Elms underground sttaion now being bult just down teh road from te library enew Nine Elms sttaion  dnear to close to the

So why did the Council select the lower-performance, more expensive and less easily accessible library?

Culture 2020 states that TSL lost out to Durning because it was considered more suitable for conversion to a gym. In fact these two Victorian buildings are quite similar. But TSL is not listed, and the deeds – which might have included a covenant restricting its use to that of a library – seem not to exist. So TSL was vulnerable. It is also an extremely attractive site for development in a post-library future.

Our proposal for a resolution was rejected

Friends of TSL does not welcome a contest created by Lambeth Council which sets one part of the community against another. We do not want any of Lambeth’s ten libraries to be closed. And we do not consider that a single full-service library is adequate or satisfactory for the north of the borough. We think that the available funds could be spread across the two libraries. Our representatives therefore suggested that people be asked whether or not they agreed with the single-library policy. This too was rejected by Councillor Edbrooke.

We also object to the way the consultation is being run

At the start of the consultation on November 24th TSL received a batch of some 400 copies. Two days later it received a small addition. The number immediately ran out – not surprising when TSL has been getting an average of 650 visits a day. Staff had to spend a lot of time photocopying the consultation form.taio form. On December 3rd TSL at last recived another batch, but that too is going down fast.

Thees interruptions in supply are particularly damaging for TSL since – while the consultation survey can be answered online – many TSL users do not have computers. And the computers in the library are often fully booked. Are people expected to make repeated journeys to answer the consultation in the library?

And why is it acceptable for councillors in Prince’s ward (where Durning is located) to send out leaflets urging people to vote for Durning, when our councillors (in Oval and Stockwell) are actively campaigning and in misleading terms (see below) – for the gym with a bookshelf that is proposed for TSL. It is after all Council policy that the choice of Durning as single library be subject to consultation. It is not yet a done deal

Shouldn’t this consultation be conducted – by all parties – in a fair way?

Whether the consultation makes a difference remains in doubt

The Council has not undertaken to comply with the results of the consultation – merely to “consider the feedback” (in the words of the consultation paper). More disturbing is the fact that one person – the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, Councillor Jane Edbrooke – “will make a final decision”.

Friends’ hope is that there will be a massive thumbs down to the proposals that will be politically difficult to ignore.

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