Two-days-a-week libraries latest step in ‘lingering demise’

Staff and residents’ associations warn that reduced opening hours to be introduced from April 4 are just ‘library closures by stealth’

Brutal: South Norwood Library – earmarked by the council for redevelopment – will be open only two days a week from next month under the council’s new timetable

The borough’s public libraries will go on to a new, reduced hours timetable next month, the last part of the toxic legacy of Labour cabinet member Ollie “Shitshow” Lewis, who has presided over the shambolic re-opening of the Fairfield Halls and agreed to the closure of Purley Pool while in charge of the Croydon’s pitifully under-resourced cultural and sporting programmes.

Residents’ groups are already warning that the much-reduced opening hours at their local libraries are a cynical part of a self-fulfilling strategy among council officials to justify future closures due to lack of demand.

Croydon has 13 public libraries, but only one, Central, next to the Town Hall, will operate on anything like “normal” opening hours, as the cash-strapped council cuts even more jobs and runs just a skeleton service. From April 4, only five of Croydon’s public libraries will offer Saturday opening hours.

The council is trying to present the reduced operating hours as if it is something the public actually wants – “with all buildings to remain open and council-owned, following resident feedback from two rounds of public consultation held last year” – when in fact the reduced hours were simply the least-dire option within the public survey, as Lewis and council officials tried to foist library closures on the public for the third time in as many years.

Library closures were firmly on the agenda of the cost-cutting council long before “Shitshow” Lewis and his mates managed to bankrupt the borough in 2020, as they sought to turn public buildings into property income. On each occasion, public outcry saw their plans quickly abandoned.

Shitshow: Ollie Lewis will leave just a husk of a formerly proud public library service

The council’s dissembling, however, continues.

In the announcement last week, the council claimed, “The new timetable takes into account the way residents currently use libraries”, which, of course, is far from the truth.

No one in Broad Green, for instance, has ever said, “‘Ere, you know what? I only need to have access to my local public library on Mondays and Thursdays.”

No A level student living in Purley has ever been heard to suggest that they can get away with revising for their exams only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

And no pensioner in Old Coulsdon has ever said that they only like to read the daily newspapers or use the public computers just on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Indeed, the Old Coulsdon Residents’ Association, where soon-to-be-two-day-a-week Bradmore Green Library is located, is warning its members to make use of the facility while they can.

OCRA’s latest newsletter states, “The threat of closure still hangs over the library.

“Inconvenient though the hours are, it is essential to keep using the library or there will be more ammunition for closure. The more we can use it the better the chances of fending off another attempt to close it.”

The new timetable represents a savage 21per cent cut in opening hours across the borough, leaving just a dry husk of a once-proud library service in the borough. One member of library staff told Inside Croydon, “We genuinely thought things got as bad as they could get when the Tories outsourced the library service to a construction firm. We were wrong: after four years of having Lewis in charge, things are far worse now.

“There’s never been any real effort to revive and improve the service. The only thing they have wanted to pursue has been closures and property sell-offs.

“Staff morale is rock bottom. After covid closures, our regular users don’t know when we are going to be open. It’s a slow, lingering demise. It’s library closures by stealth.”

As with the council’s latest, vacuous parks “strategy”, there appears to be continuing efforts to turn the professional library service into something run by unpaid volunteers, at least in part.

The council is also still pursuing its experiment with Open+, an out-of-hours access service, despite the promised trial not having taken place.

Short service: how the library opening hours will operate from April 4

“Once the new timetable has been in place a few months, library staff will be speaking to the local community to get feedback on how the new opening hours are working, and if needed, times can be reviewed to ensure they are meeting local needs as much as possible.”

Note that: nothing resembling a properly conducted (and costly) consultation of library users (or, importantly, those now unable to use their library), but just “feedback” obtained by library staff.

Signal of the callous and careless approach to the borough’s public library service, the council’s press release quoted cabinet member Lewis, a councillor so unpopular even with his fellow Labour Party members that they refused to select him in the New Addington ward where he has been elected since 2014. Unable to find any other ward to take him, Lewis won’t be standing for election again in May.

“Libraries mean so much to our community and I’m pleased that we’ve been able to keep all 13 of our libraries open,” Lewis is supposed to have said.

“The new timetable has been developed to provide the best service within the hours available making sure residents never have to travel far to enjoy their local library.” At least on two days of each week, anyhow…

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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1 Response to Two-days-a-week libraries latest step in ‘lingering demise’

  1. Dave West says:

    I live in Shirley which was the last to open after they tried everything legal to stop it from re-opening. Eventually it has re-opened but only on Monday and Tuesday and then only from mid-morning to mid-afternoon with a closure for lunch so not full days. Anyone who works, even locally, would have no chance. Oh, and they won’t introduce the new technology that other libraries (those with a future?) have got or are getting, for reasons that have never been explained.

    When I read about reduced hours, I wondered how many fewer hours they could open but no it’s just on different days with a few hours tacked on the end albeit still not late enough if you commute. “The new timetable takes into account the way residents currently use libraries” – that’s nonsense of course because no one has the opportunity to use the library any other way. Actually the revised timetable, Wednesday and Friday, does work better for us but it’s sheer luck that my wife doesn’t work Fridays.

    What we really need of course is a mix of days and early evening openings or even, god forbid, Saturdays and Sundays like real customer focussed organisations. If it’s just two days and the hours are all they can afford, why not make one of the days 12-8pm. As I have suggested, 6pm really isn’t late enough for commuters.

    Libraries really need to move with the times, even if a decade of Government austerity has left public services as a shadow of what they were and poor local administration has almost nailed down the coffin lid.

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