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Monday, 16 January 2012

No libraries closing in Croydon! Hip hip hooray!

No libraries closing in Croydon! Hip hip hooray!

This is the very positive message, delivered by Cllr Sara Bashford, and confirmed by Croydon Central MP, Gavin Barwell.  This couldn't be further from the truth.

A resident, who is a library campaigner, has been taken to task for tweeting about the Inside Croydon post, that details information about closures.

You can read the full blog here.

Mr Barwell is not known for his courtesy on twitter and we've witnessed many heated exchanges with other tweeters, including national library campaigners we follow, such as the indefatigable Shirley Burnham who seemed shocked that Mr Barwell was being so discourteous and so unwilling to engage with the campaign group. It is quite clear that Mr Barwell has also almost systematically ignored replying to any libraries questions put to him on twitter, such as the one above from Andrew Pelling, or from others for that matter, as the following example demonstrates:

When residents or campaigners ask for clarity, they are ignored.  Yet finally, Mr Barwell was prepared to tweet, and we reproduce it here.

Many noted the careful wording - the use of "branch" libraries in this tweet.

The council has sought to focus on the "all libraries are saved" message by reinforcing that none are closing, and Mr Barwell was certainly happy to reinforce this message in his tweet.

Unfortunately residents and campaigners are very cynical as they believe they were not listened to in the consultation process and have since noticed the service has been silently eroded through  the loss of many of our professional librarians and experienced staff.  Volunteers promised for the Summer BookTrail didn't materialise, some events have been cancelled and residents struggle to obtain clear information about activities running.

Then campaigners became increasingly concerned that residents began reporting a cull of book stock over some months.  Library after library were clearing their shelves of books, these were being boxed up, and all without explanation.  It seems, once again, Inside Croydon were the first to receive some information on this and you can read the post here.

So while we accept that Croydon libraries are still open, we have reduced staffing of experienced assistants and qualified librarians, a catalogue of problems caused by this, library events cancelled and attempts to enlist volunteers thwarted, leading to further problems.  Now we have the removal of book stock, undertaken silently and without explanation. But at least our libraries are open.

And then this.

The Croydon Advertiser was given information by Cllr Bashford that New Addington Library is, in fact, closing.  You can read the full post here  As you can see from the comments, New Addington Pathfinders, the so called independent voice in New Addington, are already on board and appear open to the plans.

It seems they are little concerned that Cllr Bashford is unable to assure what book stock will be on offer.  As they say, these can be ordered.  Could it be though that Pathfinders are unaware of the problems across the borough with reservations and transfers? Certainly other residents are aware, as this comment on the post demonstrates.  How do Pathfinders think this new, more cramped space, will do any better?

They seem not only open to, but almost thankful, that the council is sharing this information before and  not after the closure and move.  Are they really not aware of what is going on, on their doorstep?  The CALAT centre in New Addington has been unable to produce an up to date brochure of courses because they have lost teaching space in order to accommodate this move. That's not just courses for leisure but courses run that provide residents with life skills such as basic literacy and numeracy, offering a gateway to improved opportunities and possible employment. The job centre will also be accommodated at the CALAT centre.

Just exactly what space is going to be available to accommodate this library that Cllr Bashford assures will offer the same level of service, as is currently on offer in a purpose built library, which even includes a secure garden area?

The article goes on to explain that the council will not be consulting the residents until after the decision has been taken.  In Cllr Bashford's own words,
 " When we have exact plans we will find out what works best for residents",
 as is the way with Croydon consultations -  plan first, consult after. But perhaps the most damning statement Cllr Bashford makes is that, in referring to the comparable space available at the CALAT Centre and the existing library,
"We do not know what the square footage available will be in comparison with the library."

So the closure of a well used, purpose built library is decided without any consideration of the available space in the proposed new venue. It hardly seems there is any rigour to the decision process or any regard for how a service might cope in the limited space available.

No wonder CALAT cannot advertise courses, no wonder the library is telling enquirers there is no forward plan for events and no wonder Croydon's Cllr Bashford has been forced to make this rather half-hearted announcement about, yes, a closure.

Could it be that this is merely the half-way step to setting up another lucrative deal with developers to offer the prime library location in New Addington up for grabs to the highest bidder, perhaps a bidder already lined up? There has been talk for years of a supermarket such as Tesco's in New Addington. Could it just be that the CALAT move is merely an interim measure, with any developer having to provide a library facility within the complex that they build, just like Sainsbury's in Selsdon, in the ward that Cllr Bashford represents?

Whatever the plan, New Addington are being sold short with a poorly thought out plan to cram so much into an already well used space which is the current CALAT building.

But perhaps Mr Barwell's reference to no branch libraries being closed was really intended to mask the quite shocking revelation about Upper Norwood Joint Library, exposed today by Inside Croydon.  Read the latest here:

No wonder Mr Barwell is so keen to discredit and expose Save Croydon Libraries campaigners, as he tweeted today:

It seems that Croydon library campaigners and bloggers such as Inside Croydon are just a little too close to exposing the truth.

We dread to think what will happen next.  Watch this space.

1 comment:

  1. Mr Barwell is certainly a tad discourteous at times on Twitter.

    But it's all in the interests of transparency. The Tories couldn't care less about the needs of the average working and lower middle class residents of Croydon, so Mr Barwell is simply ensuring no fa├žade of benevolence is conveyed in his tweets! Commendable, no?