Friends of Library groups have written to Councillor Lib Peck offering to “call off the fight, get round the table together and make sure that Susanna Barnes’ [Lambeth’s Head of Library Services] proposals for our 10 libraries become reality.”
(See later in this article for the full text of letter)
At the time of writing there is a very real threat that one or more libraries may close in April. Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library have been told to take down their banner showing a count down of the number of days remaining. The banner remains for now.
The 10 libraries of Lambeth
The first Lambeth libraries (West Norwood and Tate South Lambeth) opened in 1888. With the opening of the Carnegie Library in 1906 that brought the total number of libraries in Lambeth to ten and there have been ten ever since.
Some of the buildings may have changed – Old Clapham Library (1889) became Omnibus Clapham Arts Centre and Old Waterloo Library (1893) became Waterloo Action Centre – but for a hundred and ten years there have been ten libraries in Lambeth. All the original buildings survive as can be seen in the montage below which shows the past and present libraries.
Text of Letter to Lib Peck from Friends of Library’s groups
Councillor Lib Peck
“Friends of Lambeth Libraries – from Waterloo to Upper Norwood – want to thank you for your decision to consider the alternative proposal for Lambeth’s libraries, by Susanna Barnes, head of service.
This would maintain all 10 libraries, but still deliver the savings which we entirely understand the Council is forced to find.
We fully appreciate that the government has inflicted deep cuts on Lambeth. But we also know that the Council believes in finding pioneering solutions to deliver improved services to residents. Here is another chance to do just that.
The current Culture2020 proposals, while perhaps well intentioned, would reduce five of our 10 libraries to a fraction of their current size – and leave them unstaffed. Millions would be wasted on installing unwanted gyms in three of them, and on administering a clumsy, fragmented ‘system’.
These proposals would hurt the most vulnerable in our borough, and do not deliver the savings needed.
They are deeply unpopular. Residents have demonstrated this in their hundreds, again and again. Over 10,000 have signed petitions.
But we are wholeheartedly in favour of Susanna Barnes’ proposal – which preserves a full library service for all who need it, provides more certainty of savings and offers many additional benefits.
Lib, you can turn bitter opposition into enthusiastic support. What’s more, this support will build into extra funding, more activities, new ideas – and kudos for Lambeth.
That will not happen if the Council tries to foist an illogical and hated plan on to reluctant residents who value the libraries as they are now.
So – what does Susanna Barnes propose? The core idea is a staff and community mutual trust. It opens up savings, and ways to bring in funding, that are not open to the Council. Above all, it is a unique opportunity to pool the expertise of Council staff and the skills of Lambeth residents.
By creating this formidable alliance, the Council can access outside commercial acumen and professional skills to deliver additional income, reduce costs, develop staff and use properties more efficiently.
This, we believe, represents Lambeth’s finest aspirations for social inclusion – and being a Co-operative Council.
If you endorse this alternative approach, you will regain the huge measure of goodwill you have lost with the Culture2020 plans.
And you will be able to rely on a very active network that would deliver added value – something the Council has so far not explored.
Can Susanna Barnes – and the community – deliver?
Well, she and her staff have already made remarkable improvements in the past two years. Lambeth – on one of the lowest budgets in Britain – is TOP for its percentage increase in loans, and one of only two services in the whole country to improve on all three national measures: loans, visits and active borrowers.
A host of new – free – activities and advice sessions keep the buildings buzzing all day. And Lambeth’s libraries are also now the national leader in enabling people with sight problems to read and use the internet.
None of this can survive if the service is cut in half.
Those who would suffer include children, old and disabled people, BME communities, those on low incomes, those without internet access and many people who need help with everyday problems. Next to suffer would be the Council, as its hard-pressed services try somehow to compensate for the damage.
Our libraries now are jewels in the borough’s crown. We need to build on them to deliver maximum social returns. To reverse all this progress is a shocking waste of the Council’s recent hard work and capital investment.
Imagine what accolades Lambeth Council could garner if, instead of slashing its library network in half, it maintained and improved it – with the full support of residents.
Imagine if this could be achieved in a way which generated more than the required savings, drove innovation and staff productivity and increased the feeling of ownership by Lambeth residents in the provision of their service.
We don’t have to imagine.
Let’s call off the fight, get round the table together and make sure that Susanna Barnes’ proposals for our 10 libraries become reality.
Laura Swaffield, chair of Friends of Lambeth Libraries
Priscilla Baines for Friends of the Durning Library
Michael Ball for Friends of Waterloo Library
Jeff Doorn for Friends of Carnegie Library
Robert Gibson for Upper Norwood Library Campaign
Edith Holtham for Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library
Simon Hooberman for Friends of Streatham Vale
Marjorie Landels for Friends of Minet Library
Michaela Loebner for Friends of West Norwood Library
Marilyn Rogers for Friends of Brixton Library.”
Note on Lambeth’s financial position
In the preface to Lambeth’s 2014/14 draft statement of accounts Councillor Paul McGlone Deputy Leader (Finance and Investment) states.
“We are facing difficult times in local government. By 2016/17 Lambeth will have lost 50% of its core government funding compared to 2010/11, and this general trend of shrinking funding can be expected to continue for some years yet. But we are committed to achieving ambition and fairness in everything we do. In Lambeth we are determined to focus on what we are able to achieve with the resources we have left, and we will not solely be driven by cuts we have to make”
The preface goes on to mention the impact of reforms on vulnerable residents many of whom benefit directly from libraries. It remains to be seen how many of those vulnerable residents would walk an extra kilometre or two to a single library in the North of the borough. It also remains to be seen how unmanned libaries that require children to be accompanied will serve vulnerable residents
Local government may be facing difficult times but when you look at how much some suppliers have received from Lambeth Council in recent years questions about Lambeth’s financial/investment priorities spring to mind. For example, published figures on some of Lambeth’s expenditure show that between 2011 and 2015 more than 300 suppliers’ received £1 million or more.
There is no doubt that there are significant revenue commitment but also investment. In spite of the burgeoning population and literally billions of pounds of investment, Lambeth’s long term aim is for a single library in the north of the borough. Never mind the fact that North Lambeth has three of the most dangerous junctions in London and fewer libraries will mean more busy roads for children to cross. In the short term, libraries will offer a reduced service. In effect, Lambeth is disinvesting in libraries that local residents do want and investing in gyms where there are already plenty.