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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Where have all the Librarians gone?

Despite repeated assurances from Councillor Sara Bashford regarding the 'genuine' nature of the consultation, and that no decision has yet been taken on the fate of our libraries there is cause for concern. A growing number of Croydon residents are already seeing a real and measurable change in the service on offer in our libraries.

As there has been huge public outcry over any proposed loss of service, it would seem reasonable that, if there was any change to our libraries, residents would be advised. Yet it seems that an 'internal reshuffle' has been undertaken quietly, just weeks after the Libraries consultation, without reference to or even notifying residents.  This has resulted in a loss in staff numbers and qualified librarians. 

At Sanderstead, we have lost access to the advice and guidance of our last remaining highly qualified and much respected librarian. We understand we are not the only branch left without a qualified librarian on hand.

We know at Sanderstead the staff are working particularly hard now with only two staff on duty at any one time, or just one on occasion. It seems this is also the case in several other Croydon libraries.

Sanderstead is now served by a stream of very occasional staff, several of whom only appear once a week. 

There is now even less time available to help any resident requiring assistance or advice.

It has not been possible to speak with the new manager either; a manager who has been in place for over a month now but yet to be spotted at Sanderstead by residents keen to meet with her.

The hoard of volunteers, apparently chomping at the bit to help, hasn't materialised to offer a hand either. Residents are little surprised by this as the community remain firm that volunteers cannot replace a professionally run library service and have always questioned whether these volunteers actually exist.

Continuity and value of knowing the community
So much for providing time for staff to build up a real rapport with the community served; so much for continuity. It seems Croydon place little value in engaging with and knowing or meeting the needs of the community it serves. Despite the dedication and commitment of the staff we have, the reduction in staff and the lack of a qualified librarian on hand inevitably leads to a lesser service.

It is little consolation to Sanderstead residents that we have just learnt of the promise of a share of a qualified librarian who will be available to us just one day per month, her first day being today.

Even the popular and often over-subscribed children's activities are no longer run by a qualified librarian other than the monthly Teen Writing Group running today.

Will Croydon put this right?
There is nothing like the professional library service offered by qualified librarians and staff who really know their library users; their interests, frailties and foibles. This was the message Croydon residents gave to the council in the libraries consultation, a message we are told was heard and would be taken into account.

It beggars belief that Croydon are eroding the standard of our library service, even before any further cuts are contemplated through decisions taken on the libraries consultation.

After all the problems and criticism that Croydon has faced with the 'genuine' consultations, including consultations on Arts and Heritage, and the parking consultation, we would hope that residents can trust that Croydon will do the right thing now when it comes to making a decision on libraries.

Well, we'll just have to wait and see.

But next time you are in your local library, do take a look around and see if things have changed, as ours has.

It is up to Croydon residents to pull together, to open their eyes, to start asking questions and  uncover the truth about what is really happening in Croydon libraries. Let's see the true spirit of  "The Big Society" in action, where residents unite to support within and across communities, get to the root of the truth and work together to ensure the Council takes full account of what residents want, value and are entitled to - a comprehensive and efficient library service, one run with professionally qualified staff.

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