CROYDON IN CRISIS: As the council’s second consultation in a year to shut down a statutory service comes to an end, eight of the borough’s libraries remain closed for the majority of the week.
By STEVEN DOWNES
With all the usual deftless poor judgement that local residents have come to expect from the councillor who owes his place in the council cabinet to the fact that he was Tony Newman’s golf caddie, Ollie “Shit Show” Lewis launched the borough libraries’ annual children’s reading challenge last Saturday.
As Lewis, the cabinet member for culture and shit, should know, Saturday just happens to be the day of the week when, of Croydon’s 13 public libraries, only two are actually open.
Lewis’s reign of terror on the cultural and artistic fabric of the borough has probably been felt hardest by its once-proud library service – though the calamitous fate of the Fairfield Halls and the wanton neglect of sports facilities such as Croydon Arena and Purley Pool, also on his watch, push them close.
In the middle of the council’s financial crisis, Lewis’s not-so-bright idea to win favour for his own personal political ambition was to offer to close five of the borough’s libraries. That idea – which Lewis had resurrected from a previously rejected scheme – went down like a cup of cold sick, and was quickly abandoned when the council had it pointed out to them that it was very probably unlawful.
Lewis came back with alternative proposals which could see his Labour-controlled council backtrack by outsourcing the public libraries to private companies again (a Tory scheme which caused lasting harm to the borough’s library service), or reduce service hours across the borough by one-fifth (basically, each library opening one day per week less under normal, non-covid, circumstances), or some bastardised “hybrid” model which would take five public libraries out of the hands of professional librarians and hand them over to volunteers…
And while this set of proposals doesn’t include outright closures of any libraries, the “amateurisation” of five of them is feared by many as being a step closer to closure, and all to save a few tens of thousands of pounds in staffing costs by a council administration which has squandered hundreds of millions on vanity projects and a badly run housing company.
In the meantime, thanks to the impact of covid closures and a noticeable reluctance by the council to signal a return to full-time opening, there’s not a single one of Croydon’s public libraries that have returned to anything like “normal” service.
One-quarter of Croydon’s libraries – Broad Green, Sanderstead, Shirley and Bradmore Green – remain completely closed due to pandemic precautions. It is noteworthy that three of those four are in the south of the borough, part of the borough so often ignored by the discredited Newman and his numpties, including Lewis.
Another four libraries – Coulsdon, Thornton Heath, Purley and South Norwood – are only opening two days a week.
Only two of Croydon’s public libraries – Central and Thornton Heath – have managed to return to something close to normal, opening on four days a week.
These are also the only two libraries currently offering a service on Saturdays – the day when Councillor Lewis decided to choose for the launch of this year’s children’s reading challenge.
As librarians and library advocates are keen to remind people, public libraries are about much more than simply lending out books. Which is why the tightly restricted, post-covid offerings in Croydon are potentially so erosive to the future of this important public service, and a signal of what is to come under Lewis’s perfidious plan.
When Croydon’s libraries are able to open, it is only for reduced hours, usually 10am to 4pm, but sometimes even less than that (check the council website here for your library’s opening times).
Of the nine libraries that are opening at all, they can offer only “limited browsing and pre-booked PC sessions”. The use of the library computers is for just 45 minutes at a time “to allow for cleaning between appointments”. Study spaces are available, but only if booked in advance (details of all the borough’s public libraries opening times can be found n the council website by clicking here).
For the children of Croydon who might have wanted to take part in a summer reading challenge, the real challenge for them will be in finding a public library open and available to provide access to a world of excitement, adventure and learning.
The trouble is, the legacy of Lewis and his mates who bankrupted the borough, is that Croydon children will now be disadvantaged possibly for generations to come.
Oh, and Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture in 2023.
Read more: Under-threat libraries missing from council’s re-opening plans
Read more: Libraries are our long-term investment. Don’t squander it
Read more: South Norwood library needs £900,000 more to be fit to open
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