Staff and residents’ associations warn that reduced opening hours to be introduced from April 4 are just ‘library closures by stealth’
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.
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.
“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…
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at email@example.com
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as well as BBC London News and ITV London
- Inside Croydon: 3.3million page views in 2021. Seen by 1.6million unique visitors in that 12-month period