Will Lewisham bidders focus on library services?

Lewisham Council recently ran an event (12th April 2011) to showcase organisations who were proposing to take over the running of four of their library buildings at Crofton Park, Grove Park, New Cross and Sydenham. The event was advertised with the following statement on Lewisham Council’s website.

Lewisham Council is currently inviting bids from enterprising organisations that are interested in taking on the management of one or more of four library buildings earmarked for closure.

…before a decision on which organisation should be recommended to take on a lease for each building, the Council will assess the proposed use of the building and associated community benefits including plans for community library services.

(See “Lewisham Libraries – Community Interest Event” for full details)

The emphasis of the wording in both of these extracts is worrying, as it implies the building itself (the bricks and mortar) and community use of the building is the most important aspect, rather than the library services provided within it. Library services appear to have been tagged on as an afterthought.

In an earlier statement, released some time before 11th March 2011, Lewisham indicated that they intended to run library services within the premises.

Lewisham Council is looking to grant leases for four library premises in order to secure their continued community use. Anyone submitting a proposal for a lease will need to grant appropriate rights to the Council so that part of the premises can by used to provide community library services.

Anyone interested in submitting a proposal would need to address whether they intend to offer any community use in addition to the community library provision to be facilitated by the Council.

(See “Council seeks bids on library leases” for full details)

The two articles covering this issue seem to contradict each other. In the initial statement, the Council is suggesting that they will run the library service at these libraries and in the subsequent statement they imply it will be the organisations making proposals for the building who will be running the library service. Is the Council intending to run the library service or not? Is it a case of, “Let’s wait and see”?

Moving on from this point, the event happened and an article, “Lewisham’s library bidders meet the public” was published in “News Shopper” providing details of the organisations bidding to run the local libraries, along with their proposals. We have summarised key points from the article below.

We Think : a Community Sports not-for-profit group, whose ideas include

  • Having at least three full-time staff along with volunteers. 
  • Libraries will be called “literary learning centres”
  • Book stock will be halved initially.
  • Representative quote: “It’s about redefining what a library’s role in society is going to be.”

Eco Computer Systems: Computer recycling firm, whose ideas include

  • Staffing will include a library manager plus volunteers.
  • Book stock could be cut by 5,000
  • Funding from computer recycling, book recycling, sponsorship from housing associations. 
  • Representative quote: “This is just about giving people somewhere to sit, relax and read a book.”

Omega: Part of the New Testament Church of God, whose ideas include

  • No plan in place for staffing.
  • Omega promises no overt religious aspect to the library
  • Book stock stays same
  • Increased opening hours

 Family Services UK: Charity, whose ideas include

  • Staffing will include a council-paid qualified librarian plus volunteers.
  • Looking at funds from Lottery and Capital Community Foundation alongside other funding.
  • Library would become a new base for the charity, which offers therapy to poorer communities
  • Book stock would remain the same
  • Representative quote: “The library is like a missing piece of the puzzle for us. Staff will work in partnership with our services.”

It’s admirable that so many organisations are willing to play a part in providing library services, as Lewisham no longer wish to take responsibility for them. However, it is worrying that none of these proposals are coming from organisations that have an emphasis or background in providing library services. Have they involved experts in their discussions? There is a sports group, a computer recycling company, a religious organisation and a charity proposing to run libraries. Their main focus is not about providing a library service. The library service is an add on to their core business. Just by reading some of their quotes above it seems there is no common consensus about what a library service should be. Are these organisations basing their ideas on their own personal experiences about what they and their peers believe a library service should be, but with it coloured by their core business focus?

Surely organisations whose core focus is not libraries are not the best people to run the service. Organisations need to be impartial if they are to provide services that address the needs of the entire community: how can they provide a comprehensive and efficient, legally compliant service if they don’t have an expert understanding of methods that have been tried and failed? How can they be innovative if they don’t know what services a library should provide its users with?

11 thoughts on “Will Lewisham bidders focus on library services?

  1. Tina Price-Johnson

    I am quite disturbed at the fact you have stated Eco Computers, for one, being the only company to have consulted with users of Crofton Park Library and the local community with regard to their bid, have no experience in running libraries. They have been running one on the Pepys Estate for a number of years and in fact saved it from being closed entirely. The Pepys estate is one of the poorest areas in one of the poorest boroughs (Deptford) in London and Eco Computers are looked upon very favourably for their actions. They run literacy programmes and the computers they recycle are used as teaching aids, and further, if someone helps to rebuild or recycle them they will be given it for free.

    The fact is Lewisham will close the library if one of the bidders (only two for Crofton Park) is not selected. We do not have a choice about whether it will be opened. There may be an initial loss of 5000 books but this will be from the entire Lewisham service as the system operates (and will remain in operation) a system whereby one can order books from across the borough. This loss is therefore only in immediacy, and it will only take a couple of days to get a copy should one be held in the borough. This is what already happens in Lewisham. They will employ a qualified librarian, which is more than any of the other bidders said they would, to run the library. They will not allow privatisation or private sponsorship. They will allow community groups to continue using the library free of charge and will increase child services, at a time when Lewisham has cut almost all children’s services as well as the libraries. I attended the meeting at which Eco Computers put their bid and received a tough grilling from the service users and local community.

    In order to address some of the inaccuracies in this blog, I am more than happy to type up and submit the Minutes I took of the same, if you wish. I would love to be able to do the same for the others, but unfortunately none of the User/Save the Library groups were able to ascertain who, or meet with, any of the other bidders before 12th April as the Council did not know until a few days beforehand who they would be.

    Reply
    1. garygre

      Hello Tina

      Thanks for your comments.

      We’d be really interested to see the additional information you provide in the minutes from the meeting.

      They will employ a qualified librarian, which is more than any of the other bidders said they would, to run the library

      In the original news article that was part of the basis for this blog post, “Family Services UK” also mention that they would employ a qualified librarian.

      They have been running one on the Pepys Estate for a number of years and in fact saved it from being closed entirely.

      With regard to Eco computer Systems experience of running libraries, their core focus/business is around “IT recycling and IT refurbishment facilities to householders, businesses of all sizes, local authorities, schools and not-for-profit organisations”, rather than providing library services, which was the point being made in the blog post.

      One of the main points of the blog post was to highlight that organisations whose core focus is not libraries are not the best people to run a library service and that, if the library is worth keeping (as shown by public support and usage), it’s the councils responsibility to run it. It is their statutory duty.

      Regards,

      Gary

      Reply
    2. P. Richardson

      I attended the Event, rather a large word for relatively little.
      12 interested parties were down to 4, only 2 were interested in running 4 libraries. Age Exchange was not even present to discuss its plans for Blackheath Village library.
      Ecocomputersystems could not explain why the floor plans of libraries as shown would not be what you would get. Some of their team did not know building insurance was required and it was not in the accounts.
      Costs as explained by the coucnil are murky to say the least. There is no cost/benefit analysis. What is saved? Other pots of council money are being dipped into. There will be no evening opening. The service will be diminished and people will use it less. The Library Service manager admitted books would not be available in the time described, more like a week, as at present. Do not mention money. Two alternative budgets were presented, saving money, keeping the service. Lewisham officers did not want to know.
      Look at Lewisham’s own report on damage to local Primary Schools, if this goes ahead. Says it all really!
      P. Richardson

      Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    The involvement of one or more qualified librarians should ensure that the libraries were being run as libraries rather than just recycling, activity or therapy/advice centres.

    Reply
  3. KAREN

    I am a Librarian (not a public librarian) and a locaLewisham resident and I attended the ‘consultation’ this week along with other librarian / resident friends. As always at these events I felt mainly angry at the fact that the 5 libraries are being closed, and resentful at being asked to choose which method I would choose to replace what I believe should be a funded, statutory, local public service. That said, speaking to the bidders and looking at their displays did not inspire me or fill me with much confidence.
    Your article (& New Shopper) says that the Family Services Group with have a qualified librarian – the New Shopper says this will be funded by the council, but this is incorrect as the council confirmed to us that they will not be funding a librarian in any of these closed libraries. This seemed to be one of the problems – most of the groups have little idea what the library side of the contract actually involves. The Family Services Group is only bidding for New Cross anyway so not a mistake that would be rolled out across the whole even if they were to be successful, but very worrying that this is the level of bidding, especially as once agreed and in place the Council will have little leverage to put pressure on the group if they are not running the centre (including the library aspect) to the required and contractual standards.
    The only group that seemed to have more grasp of the contract and had thought through their bid much more was the Eco Computer Systems group, who planned to themselves employ a qualified Librarian at each library. The worrying aspects of their bid included the limited (daytime only) opening hours, and the expectation of gathering enough voluteers to staff these centres, but they did seem keen to listen and adapt.

    Reply
  4. Diana Nutting

    I’m a retired librarian – thouggh not a public librarian, and the obvious question from me is why there was no bid from the staff to run the libraries.

    Reply
  5. Toby Chambers

    While people might scoff at a Sports Group being involved in Libraries I should remind all readers that the National Literact Trust has found a very strong link between the motivation to read and sport and it makes an ideal fit.

    So get behind us and lets encourage children to read via sports.

    What a Great idea fantastic lets do it

    Reply
  6. P. Richardson

    The Mayor and Cabinte of Lewisham agreed to close 5 current libraries. four will now become community libraries. Thre will have half the number of books. One will ahve a thifrd of the current number of books and a third of the current space, opening porperly next Autumn, 2010.
    Dascriptions of financing are a mess, with nothing like the original savings projected. The Evaluation Panel is concerned about the viability of the bid given the scale of growth for the company involved and the robustness of the 5 year Revenue and Expenditure Plan. The company’s turn over in 2010 was less than £50,000. So, they will only get 3 libraries!
    the council admits there are a number of risks associated with these proposals. they admit that should either the financial or building related risks arise, this could lead to a reputational risk to the council!
    You can’t be serious!?
    We have alerted Ed Vaizey to this, will he or his officials actually look at this conundrum and risk to public money and the statutory public service.
    Is anyone out there remotely concerned about this? Is this in line with the requiremnts of the Public Libraries Act 1964?
    WEDNESDAY 18TH MAY 2011 AT NOON JOIN US OUTSIDE THE DCMS AND LOBBY ED VAIZEY.
    It was he who slammed Andy Burnham, when at the DCMS in 2009 over his inaction over the Wirral fiasco!
    we now have to deal with Vaizey’s inaction in 2011!
    On the 18th we will segue on down to N0 10 and deliver documentation asking the PM to see that his minister enforces the law.
    Could someone explain why ministers can cherry pick the laws they obey? And what do they say to the public? May we cherry pick to, Mr. Vaizey?
    BETTER, PERHAPS SOMEONE FROM THE LABOUR PARTY WOULD CARE TO EXPLAIN WHY NEITHER IVAN LEWIS MP AND ED MILIBAND MP ARE INTERESTED IN ANSWERING CORRESPONDENCE?
    I KNOW ALL THE WRITING IN ALL THE WORLD ON ALL THE BLOGS AND ALL THE WEB SITES MAKE ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE TO THIS ISSUE!
    Patricia richardson

    Reply
  7. P. Richardson

    The Mayor and Cabinte of Lewisham agreed to close 5 current libraries. Four will now become community libraries. Three will have half the number of books. One will have a third of the current number of books and a third of the current space, opening properly next Autumn, 2010.
    Descriptions of financing are a mess, with nothing like the original savings projected. The Evaluation Panel is concerned about the viability of the bid given the scale of growth for the company involved and the robustness of the 5 year Revenue and Expenditure Plan. The company’s turn over in 2010 was less than £50,000. So, they will only get 3 libraries!
    The council admits there are a number of risks associated with these proposals. They admit that should either the financial or building related risks arise, this could lead to a reputational risk to the council!
    You can’t be serious!?
    We have alerted Ed Vaizey to this, will he or his officials actually look at this conundrum and risk to public money and the statutory public service?
    Is anyone out there remotely concerned about this? Is this in line with the requirements of the Public Libraries Act 1964?
    WEDNESDAY 18TH MAY 2011 AT NOON JOIN US OUTSIDE THE DCMS AND LOBBY ED VAIZEY.
    It was he who slammed Andy Burnham, when at the DCMS in 2009 over his inaction over the Wirral fiasco!
    We now have to deal with Vaizey’s inaction in 2011!
    On the 18th we will segue on down to No 10 and deliver documentation asking the PM to see that his minister enforces the law.
    Could someone explain why ministers can cherry pick the laws they obey? And what do they say to the public? May we cherry pick too, Mr. Vaizey?
    BETTER, PERHAPS SOMEONE FROM THE LABOUR PARTY WOULD CARE TO EXPLAIN WHY NEITHER IVAN LEWIS MP AND ED MILIBAND MP ARE INTERESTED IN ANSWERING CORRESPONDENCE?
    I KNOW ALL THE WRITING IN ALL THE WORLD ON ALL THE BLOGS AND ALL THE WEB SITES MAKE ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE TO THIS ISSUE!
    Patricia Richardson

    Reply

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