The October 22nd public library forum at TSL (where managers present a rundown of what has happened at the library, its performance, and plans for the future) gave us reason to rejoice, but also grounds for continuing concern.
The good news first. Our library’s performance figures remain very strong, In the first six months of the current financial year (April to September 2016) the number of visits rose by almost two fifths (37.6%) on the year-earlier level (which was already very high). The number of books borrowed was up by one tenth on the year before. This growth runs counter to national trends (in fact, the Lambeth library service as a whole is one of the best performing in the country – despite all the spending cuts). The six-month figures put TSL in fourth place in Lambeth, on the tails of the three much larger, much better resourced “town centre” libraries at Brixton, Clapham and Streatham.
The stellar visitor numbers are not surprising given the energy and initiative of our manager, Maria Kwofie, in expanding the range of activities at the library (particularly those aimed at young people) and stimulating cooperation with community institutions and groups.
But clouds still hover over the library’s future – specifically after March 2018.
In March this year Lambeth Council designated Tate South Lambeth and Durning, the two remaining full-service libraries in the north of the borough, interim joint “town centre” libraries for this area – interim until a new single library has been set up in their place. The estimated date for this was 2022. So we had a 5-6 year reprieve.
However, the current level and character of the library service at these two locations seems guaranteed only until March 2018. Funding at the current level is available only until that date. What happens then? No-one can tell us.
In this situation, Friends of TSL restates its support for the mutual trust proposal drawn up by Susanna Barnes, the head of the library service. This proposal would maintain a full library service throughout the borough, within the reduced funds that Lambeth is prepared to allocate to libraries. TSL and Durning would continue in place. There is time to sort out all the details and get the trust in place by March 2018.
Another approach by Friends of TSL relates to the Council elections in May 2018. We will ask all the local candidates to state their position on the maintenance of a full library service at TSL (not a self-service facility in one room, as is the case at Waterloo and seems to be envisaged for both Carnegie and Minet). We will report their answers.