The October 12th library forum: what we learned

Every three months a public forum – open to all – is held at the library at which library managers give updates on what has happened at Tate South Lambeth and what is planned, and local people question and hold them to account.

At the latest forum, on October 12th, we learned:

  • The newly renovated public toilet is again intermittently out of order, because the cause – faulty drains – was not dealt with
  • No date has yet been set for the start of this year’s major capital spending programme but any unspent amount will not be lost
  • Staff restructuring to meet the budget reduction target is unlikely to be implemented until January 2014
  • Official clearance of volunteers to support library activities is still to be done

This was the third library forum.  It was chaired by Councillor Jack Hopkins and was addressed by Olivia Spencer (Interim Head of Libraries and Archives), Michael Towsey (Principal Librarian of North Group/ manager at TSL) and Pauline Edole (Library Services Manager at TSL). Five members of the committee of Friends of TSL were among the crowd and all joined in the discussion.

The minutes of the meeting will be available at the library – watch the board for a notice. This account picks out a few highlights.

The new public toilet is out of order again

Work was completed in August – as scheduled – on the renovation of the public and staff toilets. Library users were delighted  at the sparkling new facilities. But by early October the public toilet was yet again not functioning for lengthy periods(as  has been the case for two and a half years now). The reason was simple. The work done had not included remedial action on the defective drains that have long been identified as the cause of the problem. When the schedule for the work was presented at the previous library forum (on July 13th) it was assumed that this work would be carried out. Library users were also somewhat alarmed to see that nothing had been done about another major structural defect – serious damp penetration of the outside wall of the toilet area. Panels had been mounted in front of the crumbling plaster, which is still untreated and deteriorating but now out of sight.

Local people are not happy. We want real solutions – not cosmetics.

The Section 106 shopping list is decided

A much more positive feature was the decision on the use of some £4,000 in Section 106 money for equipment purchases for the library.

After lengthy consultation, including a popular ballot earlier in the year, a list of 12 items was drawn up by the library managers and submitted for approval. The items include: 40  chairs for events, six fold-up tables, ten e-readers, a reader-scanner for the visually impaired and dyslexic (including Portuguese-language software), a laptop, a laptop bar, and display stands. The meeting expressed its approval of the list and gratification at the process of identifying the desired items. But it was recognised that this time the consultation on the detail had not included significant volunteer/partners at the library. This will be corrected in the future.

Still no date for start up on this year’s capital spending programme

Olivia Spencer presented a detailed and comprehensive list of building work at TSL due to start “in the next few months” (no firm dates). This includes work both inside and out – on the roof, walls, entrance area, windows and doors – as identified in a condition report drawn up last year. The meeting reiterated  concern, expressed years ago by Friends and at both the previous forums, at the serious damp penetration on two walls, which should be rapidly dealt with. In addition it was proposed – and accepted by the management – that in looking at further spending through into the next financial year (ie from April 2014 on) there will be consideration of the options for a new heating and ventilation system (outlined by an expert brought in by Friends) that will be both efficient and cost-saving.

The meeting was relieved to learn that any capital funds unspent by the end of this financial year will be rolled over into the next. They will not be lost.

Engaging volunteers – a task still to be done

The meeting was impressed by a long list of activities at the library, involving a broad sweep of partners and volunteers, some independently organised and some set up and run by library staff.

It was pointed out (as at the previous forum) that for library-run programmes to be effective and sustainable a system for engaging volunteers has to be developed. This must include an immediate response to offers (not so far the case) and rapid action to satisfy legal requirements on contact with children and vulnerable adults.

It was also pointed out that – whatever the role for volunteers after a reduction in staff numbers under the planned restructuring –  library staff will have to manage at least some of the activities involving volunteers. Olivia Spencer said this is recognised in the design of the staff restructuring.

Some deadlines are missed

What became clear at the meeting – either by direct reference or by its absence  – is that some deadlines publicised at the July meeting have been missed and some aims unrealised. These include:

  • The introduction of staff restructuring (in other words staff reduction). In July the forecast was October. In fact the draft is out for consultation with staff/unions until the end of October. November will see a review by management of counter proposals. The scheme is likely to be finalised by the end of this year. So the saving on the wage bill will not start until January – meaning that the £750,000 target for savings on the Lambeth Libraries budget in 2013/14 will not be achieved by the end of next March.
  • The conditions and tariffs for hiring out the building for local events/meetings were due to be published by this meeting. They were not.
  • A self-service machine was due to be installed at TSL at the end of summer/early autumn. Other reports indicate that this has been postponed to early 2014.
  • To assess the impact of activities at TSL, the library was due to be looking at measures beyond a simple count of numbers attending. There is no sign of this. Nor was the meeting given that simple count for the activities now in place.

All these points- and others – can be taken up at the next library forum, on Saturday January 18th 2014.

 

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