For some time Lambeth Council – both councillors and officers – have been talking about the need for libraries to increase the income they generate. This is entirely understandable when funds available for the library service are being squeezed.
While retaining the principle of free access to library services, there is clearly a margin for raising income beyond the rather modest levels earned from DVD rentals, photocopying etc. For example Tate South Lambeth Library last year (April 2013-March 2014) earned around £9,400, which funded just under one-twentieth (4%) of the current spending on the library (ie excluding any capital budget). This year’s target is £13,000. We don’t know exactly how this increase will be achieved – but we think there are good prospects for a much bigger increase, sustainable over the long term.
Why do we think this? Where are the opportunities?
Some long-standing proposals from Friends of TSL –
Three years ago Friends of TSL – after a consultation with our members and discussion at our annual general meeting – passed on a series of proposals on income-generation to the Library Commission that had been set up by Lambeth Council to consider the future of the library service. These essentially involved the use of existing library premises when they are not open to the general public – ie every evening during the week (with the exception of Thursday) and all day Sunday. These required minimal or no investment by the library service, other than staff time in administration, and could be rapidly implemented.
Our principal recommendation for out-of-hours use of library premises was for adult education classes, tapping into institutions running courses. One of the main attractions of TSL is its extensive public transport links, with two bus routes outside the door, three more not far away in Wandsworth Road, and one of London’s biggest hubs just up the road at Vauxhall. Friends in fact put forward a specific proposal in spring 2011 to the Library Commission – via three emails and a public statement to a meeting of the Commission – but received zero response from Lambeth Council or library management.
We still think this is one route that should be followed.
– and some new ones –
There are two other, obvious, routes that should be followed:
First, the library has made no use of the courtyard area developed by Friends through Council ward funds and a donation from a major local development company. At its creation Friends suggested that the library could market this for use as a meeting space.
Second, the two top floors of the library building (which was, after all, donated by Henry Tate in its entirety for the public library service) are currently rented out as two flats through Lambeth Living. Some years back they were transferred from the library service to the Housing Department– apparently without any compensatory payment to the library service. What Friends are now suggesting is that the TSL budget receives the rental income (or a substantial share) that Lambeth Living derives from these lettings. We think there is a very strong case for this as:
- The library habitually funds maintenance and rehabilitation work on the exterior of the two flats (most recently a repainting of the windows)
- A precedent has recently been set with the transfer of the flat above Durning Library to the library service, apparently to be developed as premises for income-raising activities
- The rental income from the two flats would rise over time in line with general inflation – giving TSL a stable and growing source of funds.
In both cases there is an argument for using some of the £172,000 in capital funds allocated to TSL for the years 2013/14 and 2104/15, in further development of the courtyard and renovation of the two flats (raising the rental potential).
– which seem to run counter to current Council thinking
These latest proposals run counter to what seems to be current thinking among Council officers and councillors – that TSL premises do not have scope for substantial capital investment in new income-generating facilities along the lines planned and already being implemented at some other “community” libraries (ie the five small ones, outside the magic circle of the four large libraries that receive the bulk of the library service budget). The danger is that if their attitude prevails, as Council finances continue to be squeezed, TSL will be at risk of closure. This would be particularly perverse since the ongoing and planned development of Nine Elms will generate a massive rise in population – and so demand for public services.