“It’s Libraries Week!” declared a council-run Twitter account yesterday.
The exciting range of services on offer included using something they called “eaudiobooks”, perhaps to listen to while in the bath?
But it is not libraries week if you would usually want to use the facilities at Norbury, Shirley, Purley, Coulsdon, South Norwood, Broad Green, Sanderstead and Bradmore Green.
For those eight public libraries, operated by the council, remain closed to users. Not because of fears over the spread of covid-19, but because of the council’s self-inflicted cash crisis.
The council has 13 public libraries on its estate, of which only five – Central, Ashburton, New Addington, Selsdon and Thornton Heath – have managed to reopen since the coronavirus lockdown.
It has only been in the past week that the cabinet member for arts and stuff, Oliver “Ollie” Lewis, has admitted that the continuing closures of the other eight is because the council cannot afford to reopen them.
Which makes the council’s libraries service entreaties to “celebrate libraries, books and reading” all seem a little hollow.
And given that the council has a legal duty to provide a public library service, it may not be long before some residents step in and demand that Croydon fulfils its statutory requirements.
That may involve testing whether a library user in Coulsdon can reasonably be expected to catch the bus to Selsdon to borrow a book (so much for keeping emissions down). Or whether someone in Norbury can manage to make it to Thornton Heath to log-on to the library computers.
With a £70million covid-sized hole in its budgets, it seems very likely that as the council continues with its process of reducing its workforce by more than 400 posts, some of the cuts will hit whatever remains of the borough’s once proud library service.
Councillors are already admitting privately that those libraries currently closed will remain so at least until the next financial year begins in April.
And with an urgent need to plug the funding gap, it seems more likely than ever that the Labour-run council will dust-off a report from expensive consultants which recommended using the real estate at Norbury, Shirley, Purley and Coulsdon libraries to raise money through building housing.
The pilot for such an approach has been going on at South Norwood, but given that it has been in the hands of Brick by Brick, it will come as no surprise to Inside Croydon’s loyal reader that the flats above the new library (all for private sale) have only just been released, two years later than planned.
The lovely new library and its 1970s-built predecessor around the corner, though, remain closed. Indefinitely.
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