News

'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.
 

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Does the council think book loans are really the best measure of library usage? It seems outdated and naive given that libraries also provide reference resources, e-resources and verbal enquiry services.

If only these libraries still had a healthy staff of information professionals to help the council and government out on this!

Some proper research needs to be done to provide rounded, realistic statistics... and only then can we judge how successfully these libraries are managing post-cuts.

When book loans drop in Lewisham (or anywhere else) that indicates something. To judge "how successfully these libraries are managing post-cuts" your conclusions, to have any meaning, must be based on comparing like with like, i.e. using exactly the same criteria used to evaluate their performance "pre-cuts".

Importantly, Lewisham has very recently changed the shape of its library service. Naturally, questions must be asked if any cracks in it appear. The underlying causes should be identified, as cracks in a structure can often lead to subsidence.

Whichever way you look at it, the official council figures for Blackheath are dire. Last year, there were some 92,000 visits to the now-closed Blackheath Village library. These were made by people who one might reasonably assume also visited local shops and eateries as well as the nearby Post Office.

Visitor numbers to the community library on the other hand average some 700 a month, a potentially devastating drop in footfall as far as the local economy is concerned.

Lewisham's library closures were ill-considered, deeply unpopular and are affecting children and the less-advantaged to an unacceptable extent. And all our local Labour councillor, Kevin Bonavia, can say is: "Why the hassle?".

Gina,

Your quoting me is taken out of context: here is what I actually said: http://blackheathbugle.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/ex-libraries/

I certainly do not see the library matter as an inconvenience as you imply. It's been the biggest matter I have had to deal with and understandably so. A lot of local people are doing their best to make the new library work and there is a lot more to do.

Kevin

And to cap it all the Blackheath Village situation is a catastrophe in its own right. The Council have a lease on the building - at a cost of about £72,000 per annum - so that at least £36,000 have been literally thrown away since the library was closed. This was supposed to be all about saving money!

But far, far FAR more local people wanted to keep the Village library, as visitor numbers show only too clearly. Shame you wouldn't listen to the people who elected you.

Gina, yes the library has been the biggest and most well-known issue in Blackheath. I signed and presented the petition to Mayor of well over 6,000 signatures. It called for the maintenance of a proper library in Blackheath. That is what so many residents are putting their effort in to do with the library at Age Exchange. Yes there is much more to do, but it can be done if people are serious about it.

I'm afraid that I take any public library issue and visitor figures with a pinch of salt. I recently worked for a public library service where cheating on these statistics was widespread. Issues and visits were used to measure success, but the figures are very easy to manipulate. There were drastic falls in some branches when this kind of manipulation stopped after an internal audit. I don't point this out to defend the decision to move libraries out of council control, but this is a story that reinforces my view that issue and visitor figures should not be used as ends in themsleves. If you want to know how successful a public library service is then ask local residents to grade the service. Issue and visitor figures can provide very useful management information, but only if there is no incentive for staff to artificially inflate them.

I agree that issues and statistics shouldn't be the be all and end all in judging the intrinsic value of a public library. It seems that we increasingly live in a society that wants to "know the price of everything and the value of nothing" - the best definition of cynicisim I have ever come across.

Whatever happened to the idea of Generic Learning Outcomes that the MLA were touting a while back, i.e. putting more of an emphasis on qualitative feedback rather than statistics. Unfortunately it seems that our political masters love statistics and little else.

What libraries require are 3 things: Books, buildings (up-to-date) and staff underpinned by funding that is ring-fenced.

Big society? My...

I volunteer at Crofton Park, one of the libraries mentioned in the article. It's heartening to see so many children coming into the library to borrow books.

Many adults are coming in to donate books and computers, which are sold to help cover the running costs of this community run library.

It's our library and we recently held a very successful Christmas Fair that drew in many sections of the local community. There's more to our library than just lending books!

On the other hand, we still have adults coming in who firmly believed that the library had been closed in May 2011!

I am someone that helped establish Crofton Park Community library and strongly endorse what Liz is saying. The picture painted by the original article definitely does not reflect the positive feedback received from the many people using the library since it transferred to community control. I understand that one reason for the low book borrowing figures is that the information being recorded by the system is currently incomplete. There are clearly some teething problems in terms of linking the community libraries with the Council's information management system which are being addressed.

The community library has only been in existence six and a half months and many of the problems are due to the fact that it is pioneering previously untried ways of delivering a library linked to a range of other services and uses such as IT and pre-employment training that are much needed in the area.

One reason why issues are falling might be that the libraries haven't seen any new stock for a while. A lot of older stock has been withdrawn and the shelves are ... well, they aren't bare, because we only have half the shelf space we used to have in Crofton Park for books.

I volunteer there and am heartened every week by some member of the public who spontaneously expresses their gratitude to us for keeping the place open. Yes, there is also always at least one person who fails to understand why we can't offer all the services of the Borough run libraries, and it is a major frustration, so I understand the fears and discontent over a two-tier system.

I too would have preferred the libraries to all stay open and to all have dedicated professional staffing, but Lewisham took the decision on cost grounds to lay off staff and allow libraries to be run by volunteers. With the best will in the world they may never be run as well as they could be by dedicated and experienced professionally qualified library staff.

But it's early days - we have yet to see what impact the planned self-issue system installation will have, as well as how many people the planned community cafe will attract. What we do know though is that our Baby Bounce event on a Friday is running at full capacity - with 90 people attending it's almost needing to turn people away, so it can't be all bad.

I volunteer running the baby bounce at Crofton Park library on Friday mornings, which is free for families to attend. As a mum and local business owner I felt I wanted to shares my skills and be involved with my community. Helping to create a better place for us all to live in.

This has created a real community for parents, grandparents and carers. When I have been too unwell to run it. Parents have rallied together and sang songs. The baby bounce is bursing at the seems sometimes, as it's very popular. I know some mums travel as far as Sydenham to attend.

I feel the library is a real community hub and lots of mums, dads, carers have benefitted meeting others through this free local service.

The libraries needs you to be involved, sharing your time and skills or borrowing books to keep it as a much needed facility.

Join the new facebook group for Crofton Park Baby Bounce if you are interested.
https://www.facebook.com/babybouncecroftonpark

I worked as a volunteer in the library for 3 months. My feeling was that the borrowing was fairly high and consistent. We were given IT training as volunteers through the UK Online initiative. The library provides resources to the local community including babybounce, children's reading, IT access and donations, printing, colour photocopying, an accessible garden, talking books and sale of second hand books as well as a borrowing service. I notice that trees are now for sale in the forecourt.

Don't forget the suppliers too who are also affected by this. Whether It's askew or berts, they're losing out as well. Usually volunteer run libraries are not getting new books - so no new advance sales, no supplier selections, no up-topping, no spending the remaining budget at this time of year. Suppliers must be feeling the pinch because of these situations too.

Does the council think book loans are really the best measure of library usage? It seems outdated and naive given that libraries also provide reference resources, e-resources and verbal enquiry services.

If only these libraries still had a healthy staff of information professionals to help the council and government out on this!

Some proper research needs to be done to provide rounded, realistic statistics... and only then can we judge how successfully these libraries are managing post-cuts.

When book loans drop in Lewisham (or anywhere else) that indicates something. To judge "how successfully these libraries are managing post-cuts" your conclusions, to have any meaning, must be based on comparing like with like, i.e. using exactly the same criteria used to evaluate their performance "pre-cuts".

Importantly, Lewisham has very recently changed the shape of its library service. Naturally, questions must be asked if any cracks in it appear. The underlying causes should be identified, as cracks in a structure can often lead to subsidence.

Whichever way you look at it, the official council figures for Blackheath are dire. Last year, there were some 92,000 visits to the now-closed Blackheath Village library. These were made by people who one might reasonably assume also visited local shops and eateries as well as the nearby Post Office.

Visitor numbers to the community library on the other hand average some 700 a month, a potentially devastating drop in footfall as far as the local economy is concerned.

Lewisham's library closures were ill-considered, deeply unpopular and are affecting children and the less-advantaged to an unacceptable extent. And all our local Labour councillor, Kevin Bonavia, can say is: "Why the hassle?".

Gina,

Your quoting me is taken out of context: here is what I actually said: http://blackheathbugle.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/ex-libraries/

I certainly do not see the library matter as an inconvenience as you imply. It's been the biggest matter I have had to deal with and understandably so. A lot of local people are doing their best to make the new library work and there is a lot more to do.

Kevin

But far, far FAR more local people wanted to keep the Village library, as visitor numbers show only too clearly. Shame you wouldn't listen to the people who elected you.

Gina, yes the library has been the biggest and most well-known issue in Blackheath. I signed and presented the petition to Mayor of well over 6,000 signatures. It called for the maintenance of a proper library in Blackheath. That is what so many residents are putting their effort in to do with the library at Age Exchange. Yes there is much more to do, but it can be done if people are serious about it.

And to cap it all the Blackheath Village situation is a catastrophe in its own right. The Council have a lease on the building - at a cost of about £72,000 per annum - so that at least £36,000 have been literally thrown away since the library was closed. This was supposed to be all about saving money!

I'm afraid that I take any public library issue and visitor figures with a pinch of salt. I recently worked for a public library service where cheating on these statistics was widespread. Issues and visits were used to measure success, but the figures are very easy to manipulate. There were drastic falls in some branches when this kind of manipulation stopped after an internal audit. I don't point this out to defend the decision to move libraries out of council control, but this is a story that reinforces my view that issue and visitor figures should not be used as ends in themsleves. If you want to know how successful a public library service is then ask local residents to grade the service. Issue and visitor figures can provide very useful management information, but only if there is no incentive for staff to artificially inflate them.

I agree that issues and statistics shouldn't be the be all and end all in judging the intrinsic value of a public library. It seems that we increasingly live in a society that wants to "know the price of everything and the value of nothing" - the best definition of cynicisim I have ever come across.

Whatever happened to the idea of Generic Learning Outcomes that the MLA were touting a while back, i.e. putting more of an emphasis on qualitative feedback rather than statistics. Unfortunately it seems that our political masters love statistics and little else.

What libraries require are 3 things: Books, buildings (up-to-date) and staff underpinned by funding that is ring-fenced.

Big society? My...

I volunteer at Crofton Park, one of the libraries mentioned in the article. It's heartening to see so many children coming into the library to borrow books.

Many adults are coming in to donate books and computers, which are sold to help cover the running costs of this community run library.

It's our library and we recently held a very successful Christmas Fair that drew in many sections of the local community. There's more to our library than just lending books!

On the other hand, we still have adults coming in who firmly believed that the library had been closed in May 2011!

I am someone that helped establish Crofton Park Community library and strongly endorse what Liz is saying. The picture painted by the original article definitely does not reflect the positive feedback received from the many people using the library since it transferred to community control. I understand that one reason for the low book borrowing figures is that the information being recorded by the system is currently incomplete. There are clearly some teething problems in terms of linking the community libraries with the Council's information management system which are being addressed.

The community library has only been in existence six and a half months and many of the problems are due to the fact that it is pioneering previously untried ways of delivering a library linked to a range of other services and uses such as IT and pre-employment training that are much needed in the area.

One reason why issues are falling might be that the libraries haven't seen any new stock for a while. A lot of older stock has been withdrawn and the shelves are ... well, they aren't bare, because we only have half the shelf space we used to have in Crofton Park for books.

I volunteer there and am heartened every week by some member of the public who spontaneously expresses their gratitude to us for keeping the place open. Yes, there is also always at least one person who fails to understand why we can't offer all the services of the Borough run libraries, and it is a major frustration, so I understand the fears and discontent over a two-tier system.

I too would have preferred the libraries to all stay open and to all have dedicated professional staffing, but Lewisham took the decision on cost grounds to lay off staff and allow libraries to be run by volunteers. With the best will in the world they may never be run as well as they could be by dedicated and experienced professionally qualified library staff.

But it's early days - we have yet to see what impact the planned self-issue system installation will have, as well as how many people the planned community cafe will attract. What we do know though is that our Baby Bounce event on a Friday is running at full capacity - with 90 people attending it's almost needing to turn people away, so it can't be all bad.

I volunteer running the baby bounce at Crofton Park library on Friday mornings, which is free for families to attend. As a mum and local business owner I felt I wanted to shares my skills and be involved with my community. Helping to create a better place for us all to live in.

This has created a real community for parents, grandparents and carers. When I have been too unwell to run it. Parents have rallied together and sang songs. The baby bounce is bursing at the seems sometimes, as it's very popular. I know some mums travel as far as Sydenham to attend.

I feel the library is a real community hub and lots of mums, dads, carers have benefitted meeting others through this free local service.

The libraries needs you to be involved, sharing your time and skills or borrowing books to keep it as a much needed facility.

Join the new facebook group for Crofton Park Baby Bounce if you are interested.
https://www.facebook.com/babybouncecroftonpark

I worked as a volunteer in the library for 3 months. My feeling was that the borrowing was fairly high and consistent. We were given IT training as volunteers through the UK Online initiative. The library provides resources to the local community including babybounce, children's reading, IT access and donations, printing, colour photocopying, an accessible garden, talking books and sale of second hand books as well as a borrowing service. I notice that trees are now for sale in the forecourt.

Don't forget the suppliers too who are also affected by this. Whether It's askew or berts, they're losing out as well. Usually volunteer run libraries are not getting new books - so no new advance sales, no supplier selections, no up-topping, no spending the remaining budget at this time of year. Suppliers must be feeling the pinch because of these situations too.