Preparing for Lambeth Library’s public consultation on Cooperative Libraries

Lambeth Council has published a report – Cooperative Libraries – which sets out its proposals for a library service that is “co-produced”  by the council and the general public. It is seeking your feedback – via a questionnaire which you can pick up at the library or fill in online.

The report is lengthy (28 pages) and, at points, very detailed. To help dialogue and debate Edith Holtham, chairman of Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library, has produced the summary below.
There are many questions raised by the report. But there is one overriding one that is not addressed:

  •  is co-production a condition for the maintenance of library service beyond the three major libraries (Brixton, Streatham and Clapham)?

In other words, will the six smaller libraries in Lambeth only survive if some community-based organisation takes them on? And what happens if this organisation fails – which it might well do since the Council’s funding commitment does not stretch beyond March 2014?

Download the documents here:

Cooperative Libraries Consultation Information

Cooperative Libraries consultation: survey

Summary of the Cooperative Libraries report
The “co-production” idea
The underlying concept of the report is of co-production – defined as “delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services and the wider community”.

Co-production in the library service would work as follows.

  • Each library will have a local budget.
  • “Citizens and communities” will decide how much influence they want over how this money is spent and how much day-to-day involvement they want with the library service.
  • The Council will act as commissioner and “contract” with communities for the delivery of a library service.
  • Co-production will be introduced initially in six out of Lambeth’s nine libraries – ie all the smaller ones.
  • Brixton, Streatham and Clapham will remain under direct Council management “in the short term”.

The report recognises that co-production “requires local people to give up their time to support their local community”. It proposes  to offer a menu of financial and non-financial incentives (such as training and adult education classes) to encourage participation. No proposals are forthcoming on mechanisms – how “citizens and communities” will decide their level of involvement, what are the community organisations that will be involved and how their democratic legitimacy will be ensured.
The report is unclear as to the exact extent of volunteer involvement in day-to-day library operations. It merely suggests that co-produced libraries “consider supplementing staffing with volunteers to add value to library service provision and potentially increase opening hours”

The money the Council will put up
The big issue is how much money the Council will provide to co-produced libraries.

The report gives figures  for the allocation of funds to individual libraries in the next three financial years (April-March). The total for the nine libraries is to fall from £3,057,000 in 2011/12 to £2,056,000 in 2012/13 and £1,656,000 in 2013/14. (The total cost of the library service is much higher. Including borough-wide costs it is forecast at £4,487,000 in 2011/12 – and this figure does not include the “corporate recharge” – the contribution to Lambeth Council’s central services which in recent years has run at around one third.) The budget for individual libraries is consequently due to fall by 46% – ie almost one half – between 2011/12 and 2013/14.

The report sets out allocations for each library in 2012/13 and 2013/14 on four different measures of population and need in groupings of wards for each library. This produces four sets of figures for each library, each year.

In the case of Tate South Lambeth Library the allocation is to fall from £231,000 in 2011/12 to an average of £161,500 in 2012/13 and an average of £130,000 in 2013/14 – a fall of 44% in the space of two years. This is about the mid-range of the cuts in funding: Minet and Carnegie are the hardest-hit, with falls of 60% and 58% respectively, while Durning faces a cut of 33% (one third).

The most significant features of these figures are:

  • co-produced  libraries will have very much less money to spend
  • there is  no provision for major renovation or capital works
  • there is no funding commitment beyond 2013/14.

The division of responsibilities
Within the much tighter financial package the budget figures represent, the report affirms that the “standard library service must consist of a baseline offer encompassing the full range of library services and products”. The “intention” is that the contract for each library will incorporate this aim. Within this context the report sets out the roles and obligations of the Council and what it terms cooperative (co-produced) libraries.

The Council will be responsible for  a number of central functions, such as setting the direction and outcomes for the overall library service, ensuring that statutory obligations are fulfilled, providing HR, payroll, legal and IT support (including the maintenance of WiFi).

A cooperative library will have a range of tasks that are essentially day-to-day management – of staff, volunteers. It will be responsible for – among others – building maintenance, insurance, and rates. It is envisaged that the range of services devolved from the Council will increase as cooperative libraries become sustainable.