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?