Job losses and volunteer libraries leaves us feeling let down

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Public library provision is a statutory requirement for local authorities such as Croydon. But they also represent a soft target when councils want to make cuts. ROBERT GIBSON says that the funding announcement for Crystal Palace’s library is less than a “delight”

Library campaigner Robert Gobson: unimpressed with Croydon's latest settlement for Upper Norwood

Robert Gibson: unimpressed with Croydon’s latest settlement for Upper Norwood

I am saddened by the Croydon Council press release which heralds the onset of a postcode lottery provision of library service for Croydon residents in Crystal Palace and across the borough of Croydon. A commitment of only two years will not make fund-raising for our library any easier.

Nor do I feel “delight” is the appropriate sentiment when people realise the extent of staff redundancies likely as a consequence of this announcement.

As a former Trustee I know the Upper Norwood Library Trust was never set up to be a fig leaf for cuts and a shift from a statutory provision of library service towards a volunteer-staffed community centre. As a community, we should mourn that this week’s announcement represents a reduction in service, staffing and funding and an admission from Croydon that it is moving away from statutory provision of library services for Upper Norwood, and across its borough.

I experienced the last round of redundancies which Croydon under the Conservatives imposed on our library. I was there when people tried the door to the library and it was locked when cuts in opening hours were first made. I was close to Bradley, the chief librarian, and Jerry, the archivist, who were made redundant then, and the plight of current staff is thus in the forefront in my mind.

Croydon Labour politicians then made promises which this funding deal does not live up to.

I feel let down by council spin that doesn’t mention staff redundancies and does not put the delivery of a comprehensive library service as the main offering of the building.

What I am saying about this funding agreement does not in any way diminish the efforts of the Trustees. I support the Trust and spent many long hours working with the Trustees and have contributed and will continue to help their fund-raising efforts. I think I know more than most the frustration and the endless meetings the Trustees have gone through to get this settlement from Croydon.

Residents have been campaigning to save their library in Upper Norwood for many year

Residents have been campaigning to save their library in Upper Norwood for many years

But I believe elected representatives – our councillors and MPs – have a duty to reflect the wishes of their constituents, and time and again Crystal Palace has said it wants a properly funded, professionally staffed library offering a statutory provision of library service.

In these times of austerity, that may be difficult to deliver but it’s certainly worth fighting for.

Given that the Friends of Lambeth Libraries have always shown such solidarity for Upper Norwood Library, it would be a calumny if Lambeth chose to paint this Croydon funding deal as an endorsement of its stated policy of decommissioning the library service across five of its libraries, including Upper Norwood.

The Upper Norwood Library Campaign is a supporter of the proposals of Lambeth’s head of libraries, Susanna Barnes. This is about the provision of a library service and dovetails with the Upper Norwood Library Trust’s management of the building.

But if Lambeth chooses to disregard the views of not just Crystal Palace, but the entire borough and decommission a statutory provision of library service across five of its libraries, including Upper Norwood, then the Trust offers a much better safety net and provision of library service than a Greenwich Leisure gym, which could be the fate of three Lambeth libraries. That is a testament to the tenacity and activism of our community and the efforts of the Trust.

With lots of hard work and community support, the library may well deliver additional benefits under the Trust which are not already being offered by the library. The Trustees can hold their heads up high, but our politicians can’t, and they will be held to an account.

Finally, the Campaign would like to place on record its admiration for the library staff and express our gratitude for maintaining such an excellent service in the face of such uncertainty.

  • Robert Gibson is a former Upper Norwood Library Trustee and heads the Upper Norwood Library Campaign

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2 Responses to Job losses and volunteer libraries leaves us feeling let down

  1. Is it not time that the government inspectors placed the London Borough of Croydon’s management and administration into “special measures”, like a failing NHS hospital? Something NOT smelling right about this administration and actions of the last.

  2. Lewis White says:

    In 15 years or so, Libraries are — nationally– and perhaps locally, going to be seen as the “canaries in the cage”, foretelling the death by starvation of many non-essential but decent, useful local government services, all victims on the altar of Austerity and cuts to–and beyond- the bone, inflicted by Governments past and present.

    Some libraries are still well-supported by large numbers of book borrowers, but many are sad places, with poor buildings, few new books, very shabby furniture, and decor. A few councils, like Southwark and Lewisham, did in the 1990’s and 2000’s what Sutton did in the 70’s with their super new libraries-with-armchairs, and Croydon did to build the new Clocktower Central library, which certainly brought many new visitors in.

    However, every beautiful new building gets quickly shabby without enough money to keep it maintained properly, which is a big problem, as Councils are having their funds cut –vindictively, repeatedly, and in huge steps that no private sector organisation would be able to cope with.

    Maintenance of public parks and streets is now at so low an ebb that the public have come to expect a poor standard–or no service at all. In the 1970’s there would have been an outcry about some of the things we tolerate now.

    With Austerity, more and more people are being dumped on the scrapheap of un- or under-employment.

    This includes many now redundant librarians, who, ironically, might well become new library users, but not for borrowing books. I am among the many who found, (in a year of unemployment in the mid 90’s in my case) that the local library is a haven, for study, companionship, keeping warm, intellectual stimulation–aka keeping sane.

    The problem for libraries comes not only from the “Cuts” but also that books are so cheap now that we can buy our own, plus of course, the decline of reading real books, and the rise of e-books. New homes are now so tiny that a bookshelf is a space taker-up, and thus are also victims.

    It’s a quadruple whammy, and no-one knows the answer.

    I for one would like to see fewer, better libraries, with lots of space for private study, in accessible town centre locations spaced at logical places borough-wide, combined with leisure.

    Purley would be better if we combined the library and pool /leisure centre–with a good cafe and maybe access to council services with real human beings available to ask.!

    Yep, pigs might fly, but maybe they will have to, in 15 years.


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