"A fresh chapter is about to begin in the history book of the borough’s library
service – and residents stand to gain.
Increased flexibility and innovation are two of the improvements that library users will notice following changes to be introduced later this year.
In October, John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) takes over the management of the libraries from the council, and, although the changes might not be immediately obvious, behind the scenes lots will be happening.
Most importantly, the new contract guarantees value for money that, in addition to substantial cost savings, will see none of the borough’s libraries facing closure.
In the short term, people will see improvements to the public computers, and the introduction of wi-fi networks and new self service systems, enabling staff to do more productive work.
Over time, the changes will allow Croydon’s libraries to become more flexible and innovative – opening times could change to improve access for customers, and some branches might provide a wider range of services to appeal to a larger audience.
This approach was adopted following cuts in government funding that could have left the council unable to run the current number of branches. Residents, however, made it plain that they valued their libraries too much to let any go.
The solution to the problem was to use a model that has worked for other formerly council-run services.
From bin collections to leisure centres, experience has shown that residents can enjoy continued levels of service while, at the same time, the council saves substantial sums of taxpayers’ money. And, although JLIS will be handling the day-to-day management of the service, the council will remain in control, ensuring that planned changes are real improvements that will benefit residents.
And, where are we in May of 2014?
Promised:"increased flexibility and innovation"
" improvements to the public computers, and the introduction of wi-fi networks and new self service systems, enabling staff to do more productive work."
"the council will remain in control, ensuring that planned changes are real improvements that will benefit residents."
"value for money"
And the reality
- Laing passing the contract to Carillion at a very early stage. In addition to the depleted book stock and the loss of the purpose build library in New Addington, we have:
- far fewer staff, including a further reduction in staffing after Laing & then Carillion took over
- less access to information about the service
- more temporary staff to plug the gaps, often ill-equipped to carry out the job as unaware of information requested
- a major reshuffle of staff, moving staff to areas they are unfamiliar with, and breaking up working teams.
- no increase in self-serve, and none in Central Library where self-serve might help alleviate the long queues due to far fewer staff now man a tiny section of the extensive counter area which was fully manned in previous years.
- loss of phone access to branch libraries, only just reinstated but poorly advertised so most are unaware
- time-intensive and prescriptive study pass system in Central Library, where students must register each day for a pass, seek a pass for breaks (half-hour max), and queue for access to colour-coded tables. 'Yellow tables' are out of bounds for studying, 'blue tables' are for studying and 'red tables' are the most prized of all - giving access to a plug socket!
- faltering IT. The new PCs installed are often out of service. The library loans system even broke down for a week at one stage, leaving branch libraries piled high with books awaiting scanning back in and leaving staff to manual record loans. The system often freezes. Paid late fees do not clear, and so on. Wi-fi access installed but little advertised, leaving some unaware.
It is hard to see any improvements other than access to Wi-fi so far but easy to see the further deterioration in the library service.