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Friday, 23 March 2012

Croydon Libraries bidders named but campaigners' concerns misrepresented

Save Croydon Libraries Campaign appreciates the Croydon Guardian covering the ongoing saga of Croydon Libraries with a further article on their website today but we do question why they will not engage directly with the campaign group to verify the facts. The same article went into the printed edition, without correction.

No one debates that the local press must have great difficulty verifying the real situation as Cllr Sara Bashford and Croydon Council are almost silent on the matter, pushing through the privatisation of all thirteen libraries, knowingly having only consulted with the users of less than half the libraries in the network.

Since then the Upper Norwood Library run jointly with Lambeth has run into trouble as Croydon no longer wishes to provide funding for it. Cllr Sara Bashford is also quoted in the local press announcing the closure of New Addington library without any planning of the space that might house the 'replacement' of this well-used, purpose built library or what book stock might be available.  In her own wordswhen asked if the new building will house the same number of books as it does presently, Cllr Bashford is quoted as saying she could not make any promises.
"I could not say there will be the same number of books definitely," she explained."We do not know what the square footage available will be in comparison with the library."
How reassuring.

The Save Croydon Libraries Campaign continues to work with and receive information from residents across the borough as well as national campaigners. We can only assume this Croydon Guardian article is based on the information which first appeared on Alan Wylie's excellent Stop the Privatisation of UK Public Libraries blog on March 20th and in the detailed article by Inside Croydon on March 21, which contains a great deal of research into the organisations involved.

To clarify, Save Croydon Libraries Campaign is not concerned that outsourcing the network of libraries will lead to immediate closure. During the bidding process, Croydon have already altered the plan by announcing the closure of  New Addington. Prior to this there was a drastic reduction in staffing in our libraries and then a huge cull of book stock. Croydon were also caught out by residents and the Bookseller for their woeful lack of activity for National Libraries Day - hard-pushed staff cobbling together some makeshift displays at short notice, to cover up the omission, after the Bookseller article was released. Thanks to residents who have sent us photos and the facts across the borough. In many locations there was nothing to photograph and enquiries met with blank expressions or apologies for not being aware but here is just a sample of the details we were able to record.  Judge for yourself.
 No special activities and leaflets on the board without actual dates for activities, though printed for January to March 2012. What does "one Saturday a month" actually mean and how can people plan to attend if the date is not available?
 Children's display in a Croydon Library.  Enticing choice of reading matter, don't you agree? This was taken early on in the day.  The resident straightened the books casually thrown at the display.

 The entrance display was a real treat. UK Citizenship test booklet anyone, or perhaps you fancy brushing up on the Highway Code?
 A children's display in another library, though no adult display.  At least better than some with no display at all.
And this has to be our favourite.  The only activity that perhaps might have been considered special was author  Monica Carly at Central Library that day.  But can you spot the similarity?  An eagle-eyed resident did and these events are being held at other libraries too. Unfortunately Croydon hold few of local author Monica Carly's books in stock but that is a minor detail surely!

We've already covered the concerns regarding LSSI's early involvement and their track record in the US and the Inside Croydon article along with Alan Wylie's blog covers many of the concerns with privatisation of libraries in general and the organisations Croydon have short-listed specifically.

We do not believe residents want external organisations to run our libraries. Why would we want someone else to make a profit from our libraries? We want the local authority to run the service effectively, correctly and to provide the comprehensive service that is not available to many at the moment.

We want staff to work without undue stress, with training and with knowledge of the local communities that they serve. Residents do not want staff to apologise, as they do with great regularity now. Residents are greatly concerned for staff who deliver a service under extreme pressure, often with little or no training. Residents are concerned that we will lose even more of out loyal experienced and qualified staff.

And things could surely not get any worse. We already experience a greatly reduced service in our libraries, and this is nothing new. National campaigners listen to Croydon and are aware of the problems in Croydon.  We really need the local press to back residents on this and expose what is really going on before it is too late.

As always, we remain open to offering the local press all the evidence we have and to put you in touch with a wide range of residents affected across the borough.  National campaigners are aghast when we've shared details with them. What do you think Croydon Guardian? Will you afford us the same coverage that is offered to campaign groups elsewhere?

Updated 29/03/12

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