Saturday October 11th saw the seventh library public forum at Tate South Lambeth – the face-to-face meeting of library managers and local people, held every three months, where the library’s plans are set out and its performance is held up to scrutiny by the general public.
This session – in contrast to recent ones – gave us answers to major questions. That was possible because of the composition of the panel. The head of the library service, Susanna Barnes, chaired the meeting. Sitting with her were Chris Sipidias (lead commissioner, with oversight of libraries and community buildings), Maria Kwofie (the manager of TSL) and Councillor Jane Edbrooke (Oval ward councillor and cabinet member responsible for – amongst other things – libraries). We particularly appreciated Jane’s presence – and also that of another Oval ward councillor, Claire Holland – since they squeezed this event into a previously scheduled away day for Labour councillors.
So what did we find out this time round?
Spending the funds allocated for building improvements
So far £34,000 has been spent of this year’s £107,000 funding allocation for building improvements, on renovation of the boiler, dealing with damp penetration on two walls, repainting of windows and doors (front and lobby) and reflooring of part of the lobby area. Projects identified for the rest of the allocation are:
- a comprehensive renovation of shelves, tables, chairs , signage etc as part of a new layout planned for the library
- repainting of interior walls
- new signage for the exterior
- opening access to the garden through partitioning of the back workroom
Our comment: since the existing carpet is showing signs of wear and tear (literally) we trust that redesign of the library will be accompanied by new carpeting.
Spending Section 106 money
After lengthy delays there is now hope of movement on at least two of the ten items still outstanding from the list approved for purchase from Section 106 money (the funds provided by local developers for public infrastructure). Sturdier and more comfortable chairs have been located and will be bought. while the planned tables will now be included in the redesign spending.
Our comment: It’s not clear how this selection of chairs and tables fits into the proposed redesign of the interior. And we’re still waiting to hear about the other items on the shopping list – e-readers/tablets, laptop, display stands.
An encouraging indication on the future budget
Councillor Edbrooke imparted some encouraging news – encouraging, all things considered. The libraries budget next year (ie April 2015-March 2016) will be ”not much different” from this year’s. We have to assume there’ll be some further reduction, but it’s also reasonable to assume that any cut will be less draconian than this year, when total revenue spending (ie operating costs) is due to fall by 28.8% and TSL’s allocation is down by 27.1%, both in large part due to a one-off reduction in the salary bill as the result of restructuring.
Our comment: it’s early days yet, so no reason to relax our call for adequate spending on our library.