The public dialogue begins: outcomes from the first public library forum

The first library public forum took place at TSL on 20th April 2013. There was an open invitation for anyone interested in our local library to come along and:

  • find out what is happening at the library and what is planned
  • put forward their ideas
  • question the library management team

The meeting brought together two local councillors (Jack Hopkins from Oval, acting as chairman, and Imogen Walker from Stockwell), two top managers at Lambeth Libraries ( the acting head and the operations manager), two members of the local staff (the manager and the customer services manager) and around 40 local residents.

The meeting voted overwhelmingly to maintain public forums on this pattern, to be held every three months. This will allow library users to monitor the library’s progress on its promises and policies. The next meeting is scheduled for Saturday July 13th 2-4pm.

What did we learn?

A cut of £30,000+ in spending this year

The current budget (ie not including capital spending) for the year April 2013 to March 2014 has been set at £166,612. After moving some costs to the central budge t- repairs and maintenance and cleaning – this represents a cut of £30,538 on last year. The managers did not make clear how exactly this cut (the library service prefers the word “saving”) will be achieved. Look at these figures:

Employees £181,350
Premises (rates, utilities etc) £18,150
Supplies & services £6,250
Total outgoings £205,750
Less income (fines, charges) -£8,400

Total before savings £197,350

So how do you think over £30,000 can be shaved off this year?

Senior library management suggested that much more could be earned in income – presumably through charging for the use of premises outside regular library hours. But on the most optimistic assumptions this will not bring in anything like the £600 a week that would give the target saving.

The obvious candidate is the wage bill. Library management is currently working out a restructuring of staff which – you have to assume – will reduce staff numbers at our library. Management again emphasised that professional library staff will not be replaced by volunteers. But the introduction of self service machines (scheduled for some time in the second half of this year or the first three months) will reduce the work load. Will the saving amount to one sixth of the current wage bill?

No change in library opening hours this year

Library management is reviewing library opening hours, taking into account local preferences as expressed at last November’s open day (which rated 7-day opening top, closely followed by existing hours). But the library plan for 2013/14 makes it clear that any decision on opening hours will be subject to the “LBL need to address budget pressures” – so you have to assume that a reduction in hours of opening is not ruled out.

For the time being, however, the hours will continue as they are. No change is envisaged before next year (ie April 2014)

Terms for hiring library space still to be settled

Library management is putting together a set of proposals on the charges that will be made for hiring the library outside opening hours. These will be very significant for groups such as Friends of TSL who currently use the library for a range of activities which are free of charge and which have no external funding. The library service’s proposals should be available at the next forum meeting.

Still no firm date for a public lavatory that works

It is now two years since the public lavatory at the library went out of service for most of the time. Not surprisingly the November open day made this the top priority for physical improvement s at TSL. The work (which will include tackling the water penetration in the library wall) has been put out to tender and it should start some time before the end of the year.

Getting the story out

This is just an outline of the principal points covered at the forum. The discussion ranged wider than this, and we are awaiting a comprehensive summary from Lambeth Libraries. The meeting proposed that this should be put up on a clearly marked notice board at the library – which would also invite questions and proposals for the next forum and post them there.

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