More data is coming in on the actual performance of libraries that have been transferred from council control, this time from Lewisham.  The council there stopped running five libraries in June 2011 with three being transferred to non-profit Eco Computer Systems (now Eco Communities), one to the charity Age Exchange and one was saved by volunteers.

Of these, the most expensive was the Age Exchange takeover of Blackheath Library.  The building is now a community centre and a cafe. £500k came from city financiers, £200k from Lewisham council and £30k from the Blackheath Assembly.  It’s transfer saved the council £75k per year.  It’s book issues since takeover are below:

Camden - Blackheath

Blackheath – Age Exchange took over library after £870k public / semi-public funding.

That’s abysmal in anyone’s language, with the building now apparently only providing a token library service alongside its charitable endeavours.  Now, onto the one taken over by volunteers:

Camden - New CrossNew Cross – Now run as New Cross Learning (NXPL)

One the face of it, that’s not an impressive advertisement either, although it is fair to say that books are now also just a sideline for New Cross, with their website making clear that they are doing a whole load of extra activities such as dance and film as well as learning and library services.  Unlike the other four looked at, New Cross is one where volunteers (rather than an existing organisation) took over the building – it was reopened in September 2011 which explains the deep dip in the two preceding months. Let’s look now at the three taken over by Eco Computer Systems:

Camden - Crofton Park

Crofton Park

Camden - Grove Park

Grove Park

Camden - Sydenham


We have a more gentle decline (still quite large though: especially if you look at the comparative month for month figures) in Crofton Park, another decline in Grove Park that has recently dramatically got worse and, finally, a steep decline in Sydenham that is now comparatively levelling off.  Again, the caveat here is that the buildings are now doing a lot more than library services – with these three also being computer drop-off points for recycling, providing volunteering opportunities, computer training and Maths and English classes.

So what can we tell of these five new examples of the performance of volunteer-run libraries?  The evidence, on the face of it, is clear that they are not as successful as the council-run services that have gone before.  In terms of book lending, these examples suggest a near halving in use as the best case and a decline of six-sevenths as the worst. That, even in the current national picture of an overall decline in book-lending, is genuinely poor but it’s also not especially surprising.  These are new organisations, often unpaid, taking over a well-established and comparatively well-funded service.

On the other hand, they’re clearly better than no library at all and they’re also offering more services than the council did.  In that way, they’re not strictly comparable with what came before, which is the crux of the matter.  You see, as book-lending libraries none of the six examples seen before (Walcot in Swindon if the sixth) are anywhere near as successful as the council libraries before.  The new owners have either as a matter of expediency or of policy had to change or expand the basic service in order to survive.  Public libraries don’t cover their running costs and were never meant to.  They were supposed to provide free books and information for all as a universal equalising right to information, education, literacy and also to some extent as social welfare.  That’s hardly a successful business model if one wants to cover costs.  The fact that withdrawn libraries are being pushed forward as a viable alternative is therefore, in part, misleading.  They can be viable but only if they turn into something else – I’m not saying the something else is better or worse , I’m just saying it’s different.  Likewise, I am not attacking those taking over these libraries: they are all doing a hard (often unpaid) job in difficult circumstances.  Rather, I am attacking those who suggest that somehow libraries are thriving and modernising and ignore what is happening in reality.

I will leave the final thought to Alan Templeton who very kindly supplied me with the charts included here:

“We now have six examples of poor to terrible performance by community libraries based on hard data, but no example of good performance. The evidence is beginning to accumulate for an imminent national disaster. Although it is too early to be absolutely certain about the outcome, policy makers need to start taking notice of what is happening in the real world and react accordingly.” Alan Templeton, Camden Public Library User’s Group.

Note: This article slightly edited on Sunday to add additional material about New Cross and to improve the description of the trends of the Eco libraries.


salley_vickers photo

Salley Vickers on tour of Cathedral cities (press release)  “The Reading Agency, which works with publishers and libraries to create successful and exciting events and activities for readers, used its extensive contacts within the UK’s public library network to invite libraries to approach their local cathedrals about hosting an event and planing joint promotion, and then bid to play host to Salley Vickers.”

  • Desmond Clarke -Chief Executive UK public library service – Good Library Blog. “Desmond didn’t finish his brilliance thirty years ago. He has a career which includes some of the most important jobs in publishing both here and in the US. And for ten years he has campaigned for the restoration of the public library service. He deserves so much more respect for his library work than he gets – and that is why these current newspaper articles are so heartening. In truth Desmond could be chief executive of the public library service and we would all be better off.”

  • England is a ‘comparatively philistine country’, author Julian Barnes claims – Telegraph. “The best-selling author, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2011, has accused the government of the “shocking” mass closure of libraries, with those responsible for government arts believing it is a “punishment”.The result, he claimed, was an arts sector that was “resilient and ingenious” out of necessity in the face of further cuts.”  See also Julian Barnes criticises Britain’s ‘philistine’ approach to arts – Guardian.
  • Gagged library workers – Stop the privatisation of public libraries.  Library staff are are asked not to discuss cuts or ask people to comment as, as one council puts it, ““We should avoid actively encouraging people to complain as this will undermine the value of the comments the council receives if it becomes known.”.  Examples from Southampton, Doncaster and Gloucestershire – “If you want to speak out against your own authority then do it through the union, you could risk being disciplined or sacked if you do it alone but there is nothing stopping you speaking up and out about other authorities and policy makers, in fact why aren’t you?”
  • How has the Granta list shaped the literary landscape? – BBC.  The influential list was dreamt up by library campaigner Desmond Clarke “in the bath” thirty years ago [He now assures me he is now into “power showers” – Ed.]. “With the backing of bookshops and libraries, the first Best of Young British promotion helped sell an additional 250,000 books. “Before the campaign some of the books had only sold a few hundred,” notes Clarke. “Many of them were not published in paperback.””
  • Israel Vanishing from Scotland Libraries – Arutz Sheva (Israel). Accuses two library authorities of censoring bookstock to avoid Israeli works and to highlight Palestinian view “in a cultural pogrom”.
  • Qualified librarians ‘vital in maintaining a knowledge society’ – Voxy (New Zealand). “LIANZA President, Heather Lamond, said the end result of de-professionalising library positions or moving the responsibilities elsewhere will be a degradation of services and the required expertise needed to run a complex and specialised branch of the Council.”
  • Settlement Announced In Lawsuit Over Seizure Of OWS Library – CBS (USA), $230k fines due to seizure of Occupy Wall Street Library.
  • Toronto Public Library Enters Alternate Reality (Gaming) – Library Journal (Canada).  Great way to publicise libraries and reading in a different fashion including telephone messages.  “The event is open to everyone whether they completed the missions or not, but those who did will be celebrated as a hero or champion of the resistance.”


Local News

  • Birmingham – Another library service going private? – Library Campaign. “The contract starts ‘no later than’ 3 September this year. It includes decommissioning the old library and transferring the stock to the new mega-library AND getting in ‘private investment’ AND ’participating[ing] actively in economic, social and environmental regeneration of the locality’. Applications had to be on 8 March.Good luck, Birmingham, with finding someone to do all that in 6 months flat”
  • Bradford – Saved Wilsden library is flourishing – Keighley News. ““We’ve got a core of 14 to 15 volunteers, who provide a good service for the village. The library is only open one day a week, which is what we had when Bradford ran it.”
  • Brent – Library performance – Brent Council.  Usage figures of the surviving branches after the recent closures.
  • Camden – Actor Simon Callow backs ‘sexy’ Hampstead library with one-man show – Ham & High. ““For me, libraries have always been extremely glamorous places. I have always found them sexy and full of allure. That particular little one [Keats Community Library] is such a charming, welcoming and elegant little place. It would be terrible to see it go.””.  Mr Callow is on the board of one volunteer library.
  • Croydon – Upper Norwood Library will open for just three days a week – This is Croydon Today. “”It’s only because of the strength of feeling in the community and a strong local campaign that the library can remain open at all.”
  • East Ayrshire – New Library in Auchinleck is opening! – Cunnock Chronicle. “The custom-built library is bright, spacious and very well-equipped. Built to the same design and high standards as the recently renovated Stewarton, Crosshouse and Cumnock libraries, the new library in Auchinleck provides a welcoming environment and quality services for people of all ages.”
  • Haringey – Pensioner speaks up for the users of Haringey’s scrapped mobile library service – Journal series. “Avid reader Jean Hurtt, 84, is confined to her flat because her legs are too weak for her to stand and the only way she can get the books she loves is for someone to bring them. But the council is scrapping the mobile library service to save £100,000 from next year.”

“The council says not many people currently use the service, but this holds little weight with the 180 people who do. “They don’t realise [what cutting the service will mean to people like me],” said Mrs Hurtt, “and there’s more than me in this position.”

  • Harrow – Public Library User Survey shows 85 per cent of people are happy with service as 90 new machines installed in 11 libraries – This is Local London. “The first round of upgrades included putting in self-service machines and moving Hatch End Library to the Harrow Arts Centre.” … problems with computers but “a recent Public Library User Survey showed 85 per cent of people are happy with the service overall and 71 per cent are pleased with the choice of books.”.  Wifi “hope” to be installed, shared authority library cards to be introduced.
  • Inverclyde – Village library moving – Inverclyde Now. “renamed Inverkip and Wemyss Bay Library and will begin operating in its new home on Tuesday (16 April) at 3.30pm. The library has moved from Inverkip Primary school to Wemyss Bay Primary to allow the expansion of Inverkip’s nursery. The library will return to Inverkip when the new village community centre opens.” … “There will be an improved selection of books and DVDs, photocopying and fax facilities. There will be four free public access computers, plus free wi-fi and a coffee machine. The branch will also host popular Bookbug sessions.”
  • Lancashire – £30,000 repairs to calm leak fears at Darwen library – This is Lancashire. “Concerns had been raised in the wake of the floods in the town that water could get into the Knott Street building and damage books. And after the first part of scaffolding was erected outside the building on Tuesday, the window repair work is scheduled to begin on April 22.”
  • Lewisham – “Question Everything They Tell You” – Camden Public Library Users Group, “in spite of massive publicity in favour of the new libraries, no hard example of good performance has been provided by community library advocates. What has been provided is almost entirely waffle and high hopes.”

“We now have six examples of poor to terrible performance by community libraries based on hard data, but no example of good performance. The evidence is beginning to accumulate for an imminent national disaster.”

  • Moray – MSP Richard Lochhead attacks library closures – Scotsman. “MSP Richard Lochhead today launched a fresh attack on the “folly” of Moray Council’s controversial plans to close seven libraries as part of the strategy to cuts its budget by £30 million over the next three years.” … “The simple fact is only one other library in the whole of Scotland is closing this year while Moray’s Tory, Independent and Labour councillors have supported the closure of seven.”
  • Norfolk – Library staff are the tops in county awards – Lynn News.  “Workers at the Gaywood Library received the People’s Choice award for customer focus at the outstanding contribution awards (OSCAs), which are organised to recognise the work of Norfolk County Council staff. More than 500 people voted for a shortlist of five finalists, with the library team receiving 42 per cent of the votes.”
  • North Somerset – Minister praises Town Hall library – Mercury. “Ed Vaizey MP, minister for culture, communications and creative industries, unveiled a plaque as he officially opened the library at lunchtime. He praised North Somerset Council and leader Nigel Ashton for bringing together a facility that not only houses a library, but also has offers council services and deals with police enquiries.”

“Through working together and improving the range of services on offer, the library has not only been protected but will be more efficient in the long-term.” Ed Vaizey