'Catastrophic' plunge in lending at Lewisham's community libraries

Local campaigners have accused Lewisham council of operating a two-tier library service after the council's own statistics showed borrowing plummeting up to 89% at the libraries transferred out of council management in May.

Borrowing figures for October 2011 show Grove Park community library making just 722 loans during that month this year compared to 3,764 in October 2010, a drop of 81% on its previous year's total. New Cross library saw just 458 issues this October compared with 2,770 in October last year; Sydenham library totalled 1,326 loans this October compared with 4,035 in the same month last year. Crofton Park library saw the best result, lending 2,836 times this October, down 53% on its total of 6,036 in October 2010. Blackheath Village library saw the worst result, lending just 572 books in October this year, down 89% on the previous October's total of 5,044.

The figures were made public by Lewisham councillor Christine Best, the cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, at a council meeting on 29th November, in response to a query from an opposition councillor. Best stated: "There have been some initial difficulties with data collection from the community libraries, and the service overall has had a difficult year, completing a major staff reorganisation and the introduction of new technologies. The implementation of such major change has had a negative impact on performance, but the service is confident that both issues and visits will now begin to increase."

Lewisham library campaigner Peter Richardson said: "We're shocked at the paucity of the issues in these community libraries. We were anticipating a drop but such a drop is catastrophic and has implications for the service as a whole. We're concerned about the two-tier system now extant, which is a breach of the 1964 Act."

Five Lewisham libraries were closed on 28th May, later reopening in new hands. Grove Park, Sydenham and Crofton Park are now run by computer recycling firm Eco; Blackheath Village library has transferred to nearby charity Age Exchange; and New Cross is being wholly run by volunteers as New Cross People's Library.