Open+’s CCTV gives Norbury Library few extra opening hours

Croydon, London’s Borough of Culture 2023, can afford to buy CCTV cameras and pay security guards, but it cannot afford the wages for trained librarians to open its public libraries for more than three days a week.

Open, but only just: the council has installed Open+ at Norbury

The council has confirmed that it has installed self-service technology at Norbury Library, using a security entry and book-lending system called Open+, which became operational this month.

This follows a trial of the system conducted at Selsdon.

Since 2020, Norbury Library has been one of the 13 public libraries operated by the cash-strapped council where all – with the exception of Central Library – operate on much-reduced opening hours. Norbury is unstaffed and closed for four days each week.

Using Open+, the council says, will “enable members to borrow books and access facilities outside the usual opening hours”.

Except the library’s photocopying service is not available under Open+, and you’ll only be allowed to use the toilets under “supervision” from the security guard. Children up to 16 years old cannot use the library under Open+ without adult supervision or approval.

Library card: it is rumoured that during the Selsdon trial, users were keen to borrow 1984 and other Orwellian books

Despite hiking Council Tax by 15% earlier this year, there has been no increase in library opening hours since their partial re-opening following the covid lockdown.

Libraries staff will continue to work at Norbury from 10am-6pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, while Open+ will be used on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, when a security guard will be on site. The council is not using Open+ to extend the library’s operation into the evenings, or on Sundays, but will “enable members to… access facilities” between 10am and 6pm (5pm on Saturdays). At Selsdon, Open+ opening hours have just been extended, with 8am opening times.

Library users will need to be registered for Open+ using their library card and PIN code during regular staffed hours. “Once registered, the library card can be used at either Norbury or Selsdon libraries,” the council says.

“Security measures are in place and CCTV is in operation for the safety of visitors,” the council adds, without any hint of menace…

The new tech is being paid for out of Community Infrastructure Levy, money paid by developers in one of the quid-pro-quos to secure planning permission. CIL money can be used for capital – like snazzy new tech library ID cards and locks – but it cannot be used to pay wages for librarians to work an extra three or four days each week.

What the council hailed as a “successful” trial in Selsdon attracted only 500 library users. The council’s own data from 2019-2020 – the last year when Selsdon Library was operating “normal” opening hours – showed that they had more than three times as many people visiting the library every week, with more than 93,000 visits in a 12-month period.

Jason Perry, the Tory Mayor of Croydon who could probably do with reading a book or three (or having them read to him), says he is “delighted” with the feedback from Selsdon.

User numbers: it has been four years since Croydon’s libraries were last open ‘normally’. Now, four or five could be closed and sold off

Demonstrating how council cuts and closures have become normalised while he has been Mayor, part-time Perry refers to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays at Norbury Library as being “out of hours”.

There can be little doubt that Perry will want to close and flog off some of the borough’s public libraries. Some form of property disposals has been part of at least three council library “plans”, under Labour as well as the Tories, over the past decade.

“This trial is part of a wider review of our libraries across our borough and how we can offer an efficient and cost-effective service that meets the needs of the communities they serve,” Perry said.

Open+ at Selsdon and Norbury is available to all adults aged 18 and over, and young people from 16 can register with parental consent. Children under-16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian when using the library through Open+.

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1 Response to Open+’s CCTV gives Norbury Library few extra opening hours

  1. Debra Pring says:

    I’m a huge advocate of libraries, but falling numbers–even before Covid–need to be addressed. I’m not an advocate of the new ideas stated here but, rather, radical strategies are needed to increase user numbers.

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