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Friday, 3 June 2011

Council’s announcement on the future of libraries looms closer

There are yet more snippets of information via the local Guardian this week regarding the long term future of the six Croydon branch libraries under threat.  

Apparently the Council may look at negotiating libraries out of the council’s IT contract with Capgemini.  This is all very well but surely it will depend on the buy-out clause in Capgemini’s contract as to whether this is a truly viable and cost-saving activity.  And who is going to look after and service all the IT equipment in these libraries once this contract has been terminated?

Mike Didymus of the Croydon Guardian reports that,
 "it is believed all six (libraries) will be kept open by the council but will see their opening hours reduced by one or two days a week, with volunteer staff also being used to keep down costs."
Despite this, and the uncertainty such a change might bring in terms of service provision, and in reference to the long-awaited and eagerly anticipated paper to Cabinet,  Sara Bashford is of the belief that library services might even be improved.

So that’s good.  But hang on.

Fewer hours and the use of volunteers? And let us not forget the 23 library positions that have already been slashed in the recent 'Internal Reshuffle' in April, with at least one further staff loss since.  

Let's also not forget that it was Sara Basford who assured us that the loss of these staff would not be noticed, in her words,
 “It’s going to affect the libraries, but I don’t actually think people will see a huge difference."
 But we did notice and continue to note the decline in service on offer and all the problems this reduction in staff has caused, let alone the negative impact of the loss of highly qualified and experienced staff who know their libraries and the communities that they served so well.

Another local reporter claims that Croydon Council are now considering privatising libraries.

We therefore wonder how all these factors make for a comprehensive and efficient library service for the community, let alone an improved one.

It seems Councillor Sara Bashford, who is heading up this consultation, is out of touch with the community she serves or perhaps does not recognise the value and worth of libraries, despite 20,000 responses to her consultation from residents. The manner in which she has conducted the consultation, the lack of transparency and comments made on libraries have done little to engender confidence.

Let’s stop the spin, the half-truths and constant drip feeding of information via the local press of what might or might not be for our local libraries.

Let the Council make a definitive announcement on the fate of Croydon’s well-used and much-loved libraries and let us see how much and how far the Council has truly listened to local residents, been mindful of their responses in the library consultation and have genuinely gone some way towards showing their support in building and valuing not only local communities, but also the invaluable public and professional services provided by libraries that serve those communities and which those communities hold dear. 

It is now expected, due to these leaks and quotes from Sara Bashford, that the Libraries Consultation will go to next Cabinet on Monday 13th June for a decision; a meeting where local residents may not table questions, which is probably pure coincidence. 

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