Our bookish gyms correspondent, GENE BRODIE, on how an announcement of a 9% increase on not very much leaves a long way to go to stock the borough’s library shelves
The council’s somewhat dubious practice of telling only half of a story was highlighted again at this month’s Town Hall meeting.
In making an announcement about its “investment” in the borough’s libraries’ book stock, the council was patting itself on the back over much less than half the story.
Oliver Lewis, the callow council cabinet member for putt plugs and shit shows, announced to the Town Hall chamber that £300,000 is to be spent to “add more books to the shelves in Croydon libraries”. The fact is, the sum announced is less than one-third of what was being spent on the borough libraries’ book stock 20 years ago.
Sources in Katharine Street who have worked for many years with the under-resourced library service suggest that the amount being spent is barely enough to help restore the libraries to a service of which the borough can take real pride.
“It’s very little money really,” they said.
“Croydon was spending £1million a year on new books in the 1990s. There’s a lot of empty shelves in Central Library today, and that’s the result of years of under-investment. While welcome, the £300,000 won’t go very far between our 13 libraries.”
Statistics from CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, show Croydon has one of the oldest book stocks in the country.
“That’s not good as it means Croydon lacks relevant new ranges and specialist collections,” the source said. “Travel books that are out of date are not much use. So putting more money in is vital to encourage wide use.”
Croydon’s libraries have endured a decade of cuts and civic neglect. Under the previous Tory council administration, the service was privatised, handed over to building firms to manage. Several librarian jobs were axed.
For four years, the Labour-run council had to grin and bear it while outsourcing giant Carillion ran the library service further into the ground. Advice from high-level council staff – including from some who had drafted the outsourcing policy – suggested that any move to take the libraries back in-house would result in prohibitive penalty charges for ending the contract.
When Carillion went bust in January 2018, Lewis’s predecesssor as cabinet member for culture, Timothy Godfrey, stepped in to keep the libraries open and back under council management.
The 13 libraries across Croydon offer more than 120,000 books, 11,000 audiobooks, 9,700 large print books, DVDs, music CDs and playsets. The council’s £300,000 spend this year is up 9 per cent on the subterraneanly low sum that Carillion was spending on book stock.
Perhaps of more importance in the council’s announcement is that Croydon “is to join a London-wide consortium offering residents access to millions more books”.
The London Libraries Consortium is a group of 18 boroughs. Membership will give Croydon residents access to more than 5 million items, and library membership cards are valid in all the member authorities.
But again, the council’s press office has been somewhat selective in its wording: Croydon is in fact re-joining the Consortium.
Said our Katharine Street source, “Rejoining the London Consortium is important to share expertise, knowledge and stock. Increasing the book fund goes to the core of what libraries are about.
“There’s a long way to go, but it’s great to see.”
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