The latest public forum raises worrying questions

July 12th saw the regular (quarterly) library public forum – the face-to-face meeting of library managers and local people, where the library’s plans are set out and its performance is held up for scrutiny by the general public.

There was some progress to report since the last forum, but very little information was offered on spending, either actual or planned. This has prompted concern about Lambeth Council’s commitment to this library –and questions about the usefulness of the forum.

This time the forum was chaired by Oneil Williams, Customer and Quality Service Manager at Lambeth Libraries. Other members of the panel were Maria Kwofie, the manager of TSL Library, and Stockwell Councillor Guilherme Rosa.

What did the public learn?

The forum was given some solid information in three areas.

Local managers are to be given more discretion in recruiting volunteers at the library.

Library borrowing figures are rising rapidly at TSL since they now include books lent to local hostels (an innovation by Maria Kwofie, our new manager).

Maria has begun an active programme of encouraging local school children to take out library membership.

Major questions were left unanswered –

Most of the big questions raised at the last forum, and left unanswered, were raised again at this forum. And again left unresolved.

While work has begun – at last – on building improvements at the library, the forum could not be given a schedule or content for the rest of the spending under the £107,000 capital programme, which was originally scheduled for 2013/14 but only begun two months ago.

The forum suggested that one component of the capital programme should be repainting of the interior (last done 11 years ago) as well as new shelving (some of the current shelves are well over 20 years old). The panel could not confirm that either would be done.

With the matter still under discussion within Lambeth Council, the panel could give no date for sorting out the drainage for the public toilet (still functioning only intermittently – for the fourth year now).

No date was given for the delivery of 11 items under Section 106 funding (including tables, chairs, display stands, e-readers), which were originally due to appear in February-March.

– and the budget remains a closed book

In contrast to the first four sessions of the library forum, no figures were provided on budget performance at TSL- although Friends publicly requested these 10 days before the forum. (The timing of the forums was deliberately set to enable the public to see up-to-date figures on the budget.)

So we have no figures for the budget results for 2013/14 (April/March). And four months into the 2014/15 financial year, we have no indicative targets for the current year – when we have to assume TSL will be expected to make savings.

Next steps

Library management will send budget figures to those attending the forum as soon as possible.

The minutes of the meeting will be posted up in the library.

The date for the next meeting has yet to be set – but will most probably be either October 11th or October 18th.

Our conclusion

While the library is functioning very well under its new manager, the public is not getting answers to the major questions on spending and on policy implementation that it is again and again putting before the forum.

This is of particular concern when agreed allocations of funds to TSL – the £107,000 capital programme (already by far the smallest among Lambeth libraries) and the £4,000 in section 106 money – have still not been taken up over a year since they were announced. Friends have to fight two suspicions:

  • in the further tightening in Lambeth Council spending overall , the bulk of the capital funds will not reach TSL
  • in the acquisition of a number of items under Section 106, the well-established pattern will be maintained, with TSL receiving cast-offs from other libraries rather than new purchases. That would be OK only if the unused funds still went to TSL along lines agreed at previous forums.

We wait to see.

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