Our response to Lambeth Council’s proposal to shrink the library service

The committee of Friends of TSL has responded to four leading items in the consultation questionnaire that accompanied Lambeth Council’s  document Cultural Services by 2020.

(Question 9) We welcome the proposal to maintain Lambeth Council management and funding for Tate South Lambeth Library

We regard this as amply justified by this library’s recent record –

  • Tate South has registered a good increase in both visits (which reached close to 100,000 in April 2014-March 2015) and loans (a rise of 7.8% last year, well above the 2.6% average for the service and one of only three Lambeth Libraries to show an increase)
  • It has been particularly successful in its outreach to the Portuguese community, with double-digit increases in book issues in the past three years (an annual average of 59% in 2012/13 to 2014/15)
  • It has received government recognition for its pioneering work (in partnership with Vauxhall CIC, a local community interest company) in enhancing access for the blind and visually impaired
  • It has greatly increased the range of activities it offers to school-age children, to the elderly, to the socially isolated and to job-seekers
  • It has a copious programme of events and, cooperating with its Friends group, has participated in service-wide festivals – Readers and Writers, LGBT and Lambeth Heritage

– and the future of its catchment area

Tate South is located at the edge of the Vauxhall/Nine Elms development, which is due to bring a large increase in population and hence in demand for the whole range of library services (including from a new primary school being built a short walk away).

It is in this context that Tate South has been designated interim town centre library for the north of the borough – interim in that town centre library provision is to be reviewed in the light of population trends over the next few years. So its future is not guaranteed beyond 2020. This is naturally a source of concern for Friends of TSL.

(Questions 12, 13 and 14) We are opposed to the planned contraction in the publicly funded library service in Lambeth

Conscious of the success of our small, community-focussed library and the great need and demand for the whole range of library services throughout the borough, we are strongly opposed to the proposal to cut Council funding to three other smaller libraries (Carnegie, Durning and Upper Norwood) as from 2016 and to close down two others (Minet and Waterloo).

We see this as an unacceptable contraction in a service that is performing well (with growth bucking the national trend) in meeting local needs. A scattering of libraries throughout the borough, rather than concentration at a few “town centres”, enables access by people who need to travel on foot – parents with small children, young schoolchildren, people with mobility problems, and students and the unemployed and others who cannot afford public transport.

And these people require a full library service, not a pop-up book-handling facility in the corner of some public building. Under the Culture 2020 proposals significant numbers of Lambeth’s population would effectively be deprived of a publicly funded, publicly managed and publicly accountable library service.

The document argues that a library service in the cut-off areas could be provided by “charities, social enterprises and community groups” who will be able and ready to take over the transferred libraries. We are sceptical about the feasibility of this– on grounds of inadequate funding and too compressed a timetable.

The document proposes that the three spun-off libraries obtain funding from the Lambeth Community Library Fund, which is to be set up from the proceeds of the sale of the buildings at Minet and Waterloo and other Council assets.

However the sums that this fund can offer are not sufficient to cover the running costs of all three. Moreover they are not ring-fenced for these libraries as the funds are also available for “literacy development” projects by other bodies – including the establishment of new community libraries in the catchment areas of the closed down libraries at Waterloo and Minet.

So the prospect is of “community” libraries which will not have sufficient resources to maintain a library service at current levels and will have to rely on volunteer input (the shortcomings and constraints of which are well known) to keep going. We see this model as doomed to failure.

A suggestion

We appreciate that the driving force behind the proposals to shrink Lambeth’s public library service is the need to cut Lambeth Council spending by £90million by 2020. Libraries and Archives are being required to contribute £800,000 to this target.

We think that spending on the running of the library service can be maintained at present levels and the ten public libraries kept in place if:

  • The budget for libraries recognises ( ie includes funding for) the contribution that Lambeth’s libraries make to achieving the goals of other Council departments (notably health and education) and to cultural service targets as set out in the document
  • Savings in spending are made at higher levels of Council administration

 

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