Tuesday, 21 August 2012

'We're on a road to nowhere'; Welcome to Croydon Libraries!

Interested in the current privatisation process that Croydon is undertaking with Wandsworth I wanted to see the library service for myself. Croydon library campaigner and local library user Elizabeth Ash offered to show me a few...

The first library we visited was Broad Green Library.

The library building itself is not very attractive, a bit like a garage or warehouse and is situated in an area resembling an industrial estate! The signage on the front of the library was good but the community notice area was very cluttered and messy! The other thing i noticed is that the library closes for lunch, usually a sign that staffing is short! Apparently this is the case in several Croydon libraries, and has been for some time. http://www.croydon.gov.uk/leisure/libraries/cl-opening-hours

The library was very busy, full of kids and parents signing up for the 'Book Trail' which only two volunteers wearing red t-shirts appeared to be administrating. There were only 3 library staff behind the desk, which is probably why they close for lunch!

The general feeling inside was rather chaotic and the half empty shelves (see photos above) where very messy, never a good sign as tidy shelves are always a sign of a well managed and cared for library! There where also a few public PCs out of order and from the way they had just been dumped at the side it looks as if they've been this way for some time? Residents were able to confirm this was the case.

We moved on to Thornton Heath Library which has a new facade which in my opinion doesn't blend in with the original building, but apparently it's a work of art!

Inside, the library is attractive, bright and clean with new shelving and lots of nice places to sit, the complete opposite of Broad Green Library!

There where 3 self-service kiosks and two staff in the main library. Staff were actively encouraging library users to use the self service machines. Yet again the shelves where untidy with books just lying on top of others and totally out of sequence and also not very full, very worrying! The shelf signage was also very poor, how are the public supposed to find what they're looking for with bad or virtually non-existent signage!

Just one of the empty shelves in the children's library section with the switched off and out of order PC bank in the background

another shelf in the teen section!

The IT suite, which is situated downstairs with the children's library, was empty, surely this should be one of the most heavily used parts of the library? Again some of the PCs were out of order. None were on.
The children's library was fairly busy due to the 'Book Trail' but only one of the volunteers had a red t-shirt on, so how are the public supposed to differentiate between them and the library staff, which might not be a problem due to the fact there where no library staff present anyway! More worryingly though, how were the children, some of whom were unaccompanied, supposed to distinguish between those adults there as official volunteers and any adult who happened to wander in and take a seat? It begs the question whether child protection is being taken seriously by Croydon! We where also told by some of the parents that no new books had been made available for this years 'Book Trail', a great shame and hardly a challenge!
In previous years librarians had worked up a set of questions on all the books in the Book Trail to help staff and volunteers to engage with children and ask pertinent questions at differing levels. Parents reported that volunteers didn't have specific questions on many of the books this year so often just marked that books were read, with little engagement, The Book Trail was so short of books that children were also being told that they could read any book. This was also the case in Broad Green and the general consensus from parents and carers we spoke with was that it was nothing like the standard of Book Trail from a few years ago.
Our last stop was the Central Library. The Library is arranged over 3 floors and covers a large area. The first thing to mention is that there where no self-service kiosks and only 6 staff visible in the public areas, no wonder there was a lengthy queue at the main desk and on service desks on other floors! Yet again the shelves where generally untidy and some half empty, there where also 2 stacks and 5 trolleys of returned books waiting to be shelved, a sure sign of short staffing!

The Reference collection upstairs was very well stocked and up to date especially in the areas of law and careers with a few students sitting using the resources but generally the library was very quiet for a Friday afternoon!

In all three libraries we spoke with users. Most were aware that there had been a consultation but they understand the outcome of it was that the libraries were saved and some were not even aware a conclusion to the consultation had been announced. None we spoke to however were aware of Croydon's decision to outsource the whole network and most found this very concerning.
Croydon Library Service, in conjunction with Wandsworth, is coming towards the end of a procurement process which could lead to privatisation and it looks as if JLIS, the company who run Hounslow Libraries, are the main contenders and i have heard from campaigners that this is why they suspect that the shelves are half empty and untidy, they're short staffed and events are not being publicised or organised properly? If this is true, and i have no reason to doubt it, then it is an absolute disgrace, surely the people of Croydon deserve more!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Libraries Under Threat Again - brentfordtw8.com - 17/08/12


“Labour is threatening Hounslow’s libraries again,” accused Councillor Liz Mammatt. Conservative Group Deputy Leader."
“A Consultation on the library strategy has recently been launched, when most people were pre-occupied with the Olympics and summer holidays. I found a copy quite by chance in Bedfont Library, to discover that responses are required by 15 September 2012."

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Council plans to privatise libraries are rejected as “lazy” - InsideCroydon - 09/08/2012


"The opposition group on Croydon Council has threatened to torpedo the on-going privatisation of the borough’s library service by refusing to commit to continue working with any outside organisations which may win the year-long bidding process to take on the running of libraries in Croydon and Wandsworth."
"Councillor Timothy Godfrey, Croydon Labour’s spokesman on libraries, has rejected the council’s costly outsourcing procurement process, saying, “Privatisation is simply a lazy approach.”

Don't you just love Labour's consistency on these matters, while i welcome their stance in Croydon it seems very odd in light of what their compatriots are proposing in Harrow!

Also it appears that Croydon Labour are proposing the same cooperative libraries vision that Lambeth are so keen on, which has drawn opposition from local campaigners.

Friday, 3 August 2012

C.L.R. James Library

I worked for Hackney Libraries from the early 90's to early 2000's, for 11 years to be exact. In this time i witnessed the service drop from 14 to 7 libraries, the arrival and departure of 5 Heads of Service and as many restructurings, the closure of the old and better Central Library and the opening of a new one that didn't work, the downgrading of staff, pay and terms and conditions, the loss of specialist staff, the destruction and selling off of numerous reserve stocks and special collections, a strike that lasted a year and generally the hollowing out and running down of the service!
Since i left about 8/9 years ago things have gone from bad to worse, not just because of my departure, with 25% of the workforce made redundant, the recruitment of a 'volunteer co-ordinator' and the service in disarray, so has the opening of a new library in the area been a positive development?

The new C.L.R. James Library was opened this year, it replaced a library of the same name that was demolished roughly in the same location in Dalston Lane.

It cost 4.4m to build and is part of the wider regeneration/gentrification of the area.

It's housed in a very modern, shiny, glass, and nondescript kind of building, a bit like the majority of new libraries built in the last ten years, but at least it has the word 'library' on the front which is a bonus nowadays!

As you enter the front doors, on the ground floor, straight in front of you is the 'quick picks' area staffed by a single person with a couple of self-service kiosks and to the right a cafe. It does seem a bit of a strange to put a collection of 'quick picks', whatever that means, downstairs away from the main area, wouldn't it be better to draw people into browse the full collection, or are people really that busy? Maybe someone can explain this concept to me?

On the 1st floor there is the main adult lending area, the children's library and a 'teen section'. In the main adult area the shelves where not only half full with new shiny books but where untidy, which usually implies short-staffing or bad management or both! I have heard from very good sources that new books from the other libraries were removed from their shelves and shipped over for the opening of the new one to make it look better! There where two staff and two self-service kiosks in this area and one member of staff and two kiosks in the children's library, which also had half empty and untidy book shelves! This floor was surprisingly empty of users for 3pm in the afternoon during a school holiday period!

On the 2nd floor there is a study area, which was quite busy and a smallish 'quick reference' section, this area as far as i could see was unstaffed. The Local History Archives is also housed on this floor but i didn't venture in!

The old C.L.R. James Library was lively and had lots of community spirit, the new one lacks atmosphere and is sterile, a great shame!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Council set to welcome tenders for part-privatisation of services - thisiscornwall.co.uk - 31/07/2012


"Yesterday at an extraordinary meeting of the cabinet, Cornwall Council rubber-stamped recommendations to invite private sector bids to share the running of services including libraries, "One-Stop Shops", IT and payroll."

"Stuart Roden, from the union Unison, said he was concerned about job losses.
He said: "We can't find evidence of where anything like this has worked well."

More from Harrow!

Mr Wylie

You ask what has changed since 2009, the answer to this is the
Government cutting 28% of funding to local authorities (this equates to
well over £50 million pound over 4 years).

When local Councillors are faced with this level of funding reductions,
difficult decisions will need to be made. It is not just our library
service which we are exploring savings from, but all services and
budgets across the whole Council.

With regards to the 2011 cultural services consultation, I am fully
aware of the results, but it must be mentioned that 60% of the people
who responded ticked 'they do not use the library service'. The one
omission we missed out of the consultation was to include the question,
‘Do you want to keep Libraries open?’...If this question was inserted
then I am sure the response would have been 100%, and this is exactly
what the Labour administration has always said we would do.

As stated below no final decisions have been taken on this issue. A
decision is due in December 2012.


Cllr. David Perry
Marlborough Ward
Portfolio Holder for Community & Cultural Services