BACKGROUND TO THE NEWS: LAMBETH LIBRARIES – THE SUSANNA BARNES REPORT
THE REPORT ignored by Lambeth council’s cabinet – reference to which is made in the story headlined “Lambeth cabinet told to look at ‘alternative plans’ for libraries by councillors” – has a main aim of forming a staff and community mutual to deliver the archives service and the existing ten Lambeth Libraries as a statutory service, supported by some ‘spoke’ libraries in community settings.
“It will be a model that is cheaper for the Council to monitor and hold to account; it will not set communities against each other in competing for scarce resources and it is in line with the Council’s cooperative principles.”
Among the many suggestions / comments in the report:
- A service run by professional staff, so that our citizens get the best support and service across the borough, rather than a divisive two or three tier service, which provides only token library provision
- Lambeth already has the lowest level of books per 1,000 population of any inner London borough.
- already have the lowest number of staff per 1,000 population of any inner London borough and our residents cannot afford to have their access to professional staff reduced even more.
- We already have the lowest number of computer hours available per 1,000 population of any inner London borough. In all libraries, one of the highest causes of incidents are around people using computers and the associated stress around getting bookings and making the most of their allocated time.
- The library computer provision is essential in supporting online access to those with visual impairment, low literacy and dyslexia or other related conditions.
- The current town-centre libraries are already full to capacity and cannot take any increased use from the closure of smaller libraries. At times they struggle to meet current demand for study space, computer use and access to Under five sessions.
- Lambeth Archives is a hidden gem but in its current form is unable to deliver to its full potential.
- Budget pressures cannot be offset completely by the use of volunteers and we furthermore feel that there would be a diminishing of Lambeth’s Libraries and Archives at a time when it is improving and is needed most by its citizens.The report:Libraries and Archives Management Response to the Culture 2020 Consultation
Like many others responding to this consultation, Libraries and Archives management acknowledge the difficult financial situation facing Lambeth Council.
We are also very aware of the importance of delivering positive outcomes for those most in need in the borough and the pivotal role Libraries and Archives can have in supporting all our citizens in areas such as employability, literacy and skills, education, wellbeing and health, digital access, social inclusion, and community engagement and involvement.
We recognise the innovative ideas put forward in the proposals around the endowment fund and welcome the drive for greater involvement and ownership of Lambeth citizens in the services they use.
But we also feel that there is a better way forward. One that will deliver Council priorities; address some of the critical problems the current proposals face and will show that Lambeth Council leads in implementing best practice and is an example of excellence nationally.
We would therefore like you to consider our proposal of a combined staff and community mutual, which would follow the cooperative principles that the Council upholds and aspires to.
To form a staff and community mutual to deliver the Archives Service and the existing ten Lambeth Libraries as a statutory service, supported by some “spoke” libraries in community settings.
To cover the budget shortfall with money identified in the report for health outcomes, rates relief and some funding from the endowment fund.
To continue the steep transformation of the service that has happened over the last year, by increasing opening hours, increasing use and delivering outcomes around health and other core Council priorities.
To continue to build a business model that will increase income and the use of our buildings. For staff and community together, to properly assess and maximise the potential of our buildings to meet the needs of each community before disposing of any assets, building on the options appraisal that have already been done.
We propose this as a way forward as the savings can be met from identified funding.
This proposal would mean that the Council will avoid a potential judicial review and be able to deliver a positive outcome for Lambeth and its citizens during a time of austerity. Furthermore it will be a model that is cheaper for the Council to monitor and hold to account; it will not set communities against each other in competing for scarce resources and it is in line with the Council’s cooperative principles.
We would ask the Council to support both its staff and community in developing and implementing this proposal, which delivers the Council’s stated aims and values.
A mutual involving both community and staff
Although this proposal is being led by the management team of the delivery unit, it has been discussed with staff and the majority are open to pursuing this as a way forward.
During the consultation process, as officers, we have had to maintain a level of neutrality and have been unable to discuss this as widely as we would have liked with the community.
But conversations with some Friends of Libraries have been positive and shown there is interest in the option of joining with staff to form a mutual. The proposed model of staff and community working together will deliver the following benefits:
Brings into the service skills that exist within Lambeth communities and also can help build skills within communities where they are needed
A service run by professional staff, so that our citizens get the best support and service across the borough, rather than a divisive two or three tier service, which provides only token library provision
A model that is more inclusive and ensures that all voices within the community are represented and no neighbourhoods are marginalised or set against each other in competing for funds and opportunities in a way that will lead to social tensions
A service that is balanced across the borough – not pockets of weakness and strength, which a model of several smaller trusts or groups creates and in which more affluent areas have unfair advantages. Even if funding takes this into account, because funds are limited in the long run, affluent areas have resources to be more resilient.
Greater community ownership of the service with true cooperative and partnership working of staff and citizens.
We propose that all ten libraries are retained as a statutory service. The Archives Service will also be part of the mutual as it is in this structure that the Archives will be in a position to deliver its full potential within the community, whilst meeting its corporate role.
There are several reasons why we propose that the current 10 libraries should be retained.
Lambeth already has the lowest level of books per 1,000 population of any inner London borough. This contributes of course to its poor library performance.
In the last year staff have increased the quality and quantity of stock. In non-fiction there has been a 7 per cent increase in issues and an analysis of the top 50 non-fiction books that had been borrowed the most showed that 80pc of them were not for leisure pursuits but to help our citizens in education, employment, health and to succeed in similar areas of their life.
The most vulnerable in our society are the ones who are least mobile. Our libraries need to remain in every neighbourhood: so children can safely walk there after school on winter evenings to use supervised study space and staff will be available to help them: so the elderly or those with disabilities can visit easily on a daily basis and not become isolated; so that a mother with young children can get to a story-time without having pay for bus tickets.
We already have the lowest number of staff per 1,000 population of any inner London borough and our residents cannot afford to have their access to professional staff reduced even more.
A recent small survey of people who want to use the new West Norwood Library and the Picturehouse Cinema, found that of 23 respondents, 50pc wanted to use the library to access information.
The delivery of an information and enquiry service is a key part of a modern library service which needs professional staff to deliver it. It is also essential in providing signposting to other services.
We already have the lowest number of computer hours available per 1,000 population of any inner London borough. In all libraries, one of the highest causes of incidents are around people using computers and the associated stress around getting bookings and making the most of their allocated time.
The library computer provision is essential in supporting online access to those with visual impairment, low literacy and dyslexia or other related conditions.
Some of these citizens, who already battle with huge hurdles in their lives, would have online access severely restricted if limited to only five town libraries, opening up challenge under the Equalities Act and working against the Council’s aim to get all residents accessing services online.
The current town-centre libraries are already full to capacity and cannot take any increased use from the closure of smaller libraries. At times they struggle to meet current demand for study space, computer use and access to Under 5 sessions.
The Mark Bennett Hall at Streatham Library is regularly used as a study overflow area; Clapham Library has to turn children away from its Under 5s sessions; and Brixton Library, at peak times has young people taking to sitting on the floor to study.
Of inner London authorities there is only one other London authority that has a lower number of libraries for its level of population.
In Lambeth’s Unitary Development Plan (updated 2010), the library provision was identified as being under capacity: “Identified Under Capacity. Therefore Lambeth Library provision is currently 7.5 sq. m beneath the minimum standard applied in the South East per 1,000 populations.”
This was based on a 2003 population of only 268,500. It has of course now increased to 314,200. Although Clapham Library is now in larger premises, West Norwood Library, which was once the second busiest library in the borough, is currently in very small temporary premises so the provision has significantly worsened.
Residents feel strongly that they are not getting the same level of library service as in neighbouring Southwark, which provides more libraries for a smaller population and has committed to continuing to do so.
Since the restructure in April 2014, improved delivery has seen performance and demand soar in all areas with an 11pc increase in visits, a 3pc increase in issues and a 10pc increase in membership. This demonstrates there is a growing demand for the services we offer. There has been no increase in budget to meet this increased usage.
The low level of provision explains in part why Lambeth has struggled in the past to improve its performance against other inner London authorities. Recent refurbishment combined with stability in leadership and a stronger focus on professional delivery has helped drive up performance and meet the needs of Lambeth’s population. More provision is needed, not less.
Current discussions around small “spoke” libraries are interesting, however, the work around Streatham Vale was, for residents, a first step to getting an actual library in their area again.
The size of such libraries means there is a limit to how effective they can be, how many people they can serve and the quality of the provision.
A library is a blended offer. It needs to deliver a collection of books and materials in different formats, for different age groups, in different range and depth and of course in fiction and non-fiction.
On top of this it needs good computers, printers, wifi access, online resources (and help in using them), study space, good opening hours, activities for all age groups and staff to run these activities as well as managing the stock, providing information and help in using the library. All this is impossible to deliver in a “spoke” library.
A “spoke” service can be provided, but as soon as just some of the more basic items from the above list are added it quickly becomes very expensive to deliver. Hidden costs can range from time needed for more extensive stock management that is required to keep such collections fresh to travelling time for staff.
If volunteers are used there are further hidden costs in recruiting, training, timetabling etc. Quickly setting up just 4 or 5 of these can begin to equal the cost of a small library, which is able to deliver so much more for the community.
We would aim to deliver several “spoke” libraries across the borough to support areas of identified need or in line with the previous Library Standards that were introduced by Tessa Jowell, which stated that a library should be available within a mile of where someone lived.
We have already identified two of these areas as being Tulse Hill and Streatham Vale and have set up, or are about to set up, spoke libraries in these places.
Professionally, we do not recommend that this model is used in more than a limited way as it is expensive and restricted in what it can deliver. There are far better and more cost effective ways to embed library provision throughout a community.
Lambeth Archives is a hidden gem but in its current form is unable to deliver to its full potential. Before the current consultation started, discussion had started with the local history forums in Lambeth about the future options around the Archives.
We would continue this work rather than imposing any unwelcome solution on Lambeth residents. I have considerable experience in management of an Archive Service and when responsible for Westminster Archives I improved its star rating so it was ranked third nationally, achieved designated status for its important collections, raised income through letting a family history records contract and set up local community history websites.
I strongly feel that the Lambeth Archives needs strong experienced leadership to transform and needs to be kept with services that can support this transformation.
The other side of the Archives collection is the protection of council records for posterity, so that the Council can be held to account by its citizens. In this respect I also have strong experience.
Recent office moves and investigation into past council activities highlight that more robust procedures need to be put in place across the Council. Furthermore there is a need to prepare for born-digital records.
The Archives Service would be best placed to be part of the mutual, where the community can become more involved in supporting the service and creating content, where the Archives can deliver activities across a network of library buildings and where there is expertise in addressing the transformational issues it is facing.
The Council still has a statutory duty under the 1964 Act to deliver and therefore fund a comprehensive and efficient library service. It also has a requirement to preserve a permanent archive of its records to meet other legislation.
The current savings facing the Council would reduce the budget in this area by £800,000. We propose that by forming a mutual the savings could be addressed in the following way:
Rates relief 80pc: £250,000
Endowment fund, for which the staff/community mutual would be eligible
for delivering certain services: £275,000
Proportion of £500,000 for delivery of health outcomes: £275,000
This would remove the Council from facing any challenge under the 1964 Act. It is true that many of the recent challenges have been under the requirements of the Equalities Act.
Lambeth is a borough of high need in many areas and the Cipfa March 2014 figures show that of the 12 inner London authorities Lambeth already had the 10th lowest revenue spend in library provision per population (Lambeth £15.03 per population, neighbouring Southwark £22.13) and since those figures were reported a further £870,000 reduction was delivered or allocated.
Therefore to add on top of this another saving of £800,000 to an already poorly provisioned service would, in our professional view, have a huge impact on the availability of a comprehensive and efficient service to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
The service already delivers a wide range of health outcomes, many of which will be diminished by the proposals that are being consulted on.
Our staff have had training in a variety of area around health and this is an area in which we are expanding. Training includes supporting people with mental illness, dementia awareness, safeguarding, advice on contraception for teenagers, running bibliotherapy groups, early years development.
A reduction in libraries will reduce the number of activities that are run that strongly contribute to improved mental health. This is an area in which the consultation proposals are far weak as there is greater emphasis on physical health.
Libraries are in a position to address this imbalance. Reading reduces stress in people by up to 68pc – apart from a wide range of books all our libraries have several reading groups and there are bibliotherapy books. 37pc of dementia sufferers found that reading helped reduce their symptoms.
All libraries have collections for those looking after dementia or facing the onset of dementia. There are groups for elders to help avoid isolation; a wide range of support for the unemployed; over twenty under 5s sessions to help with school readiness and support parents with young children.
Each library has books on prescription collections which can be prescribed by doctors instead of drugs to deal with conditions such as stress and anxiety and this year a similar collection is being provided in each library for young people who often are overwhelmed by the growing pressures in society.
These services will be halved by the proposals in the consultation, but will be maintained and developed by the proposed mutual.
We are particularly concerned that a reduction in service will impact most on the most vulnerable in our community and then cause further costs for the Council when more expensive intervention is required.
People with low level mental illness use the library service as a sanctuary and there are fewer places in which they are able to go and be welcomed, without spending money. This will lead to greater social isolation. We have similar evidence around our work with visually impaired people.
The poorest people are often less mobile and cannot afford the journey to a library on a regular basis. Disabled citizens will struggle more to get to a town library if they do not live near one.
They will have to use a very limited local offer. 86pc of Durning customers surveyed in 2013 travelled to the library on foot, 68pc at Minet and 73pc at Waterloo.
Although mapping exercises have shown customers have transactions at other libraries these are not necessarily visits and are may well be phone renewals on days when the small libraries, with shorter opening hours, are closed.
There are other areas of inclusion to consider. Using a library is the only arts activity that has a higher level of use by BME (46.5%) than white (33.3%) people. In all other arts activities users are predominantly white.
Taking Part 2014/15 Quarter 2 Statistical Release Decr 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/387592/Taking_Part_2014_15_Quarter_2_Report.pdf
Perhaps the most problematic is the setting of communities against each other for the same funding pot. Many groups fail to get a truly representative membership.
That is not the case when it comes to library users, who strongly reflect their local community. Library staff are best placed to engage the most excluded groups involve them in a mutual.
The following Cipfa survey was undertaken in 2013 and involved over 2000 residents. Unfortunately this was before Upper Norwood came under Lambeth’s supervision so there is no data for that library but it is unlikely to be very different.
This data shows how much local citizens depend on their local library for areas in their life which can be critical for their wellbeing. The way in which this helps deliver Council priorities is significant and a reduction in the service which our proposal renders unnecessary would undermine what the Council aims to achieve.
(Editor’s note: There then follows a table which asks: Has using the library helped you with…
Health and well being? / Family / relationships? / Meeting people? / Study / learning? / Getting online? / Personal finance / consumer matters? / Job seeking? / Your job? / Your retirement? which we are not able to reprodue here for technical reasons.)
The report continues: We have identified several risks in the consultation’s proposals and problems around the budgets needed to deliver what is proposed. We have not provided details in this document.
These budget pressures cannot be offset completely by the use of volunteers and we furthermore feel that there would be a diminishing of Lambeth’s Libraries and Archives at a time when it is improving and is needed most by its citizens.
We would like this proposal to be considered further and to be given the opportunity to submit a draft business case, which would cover the skills we have to deliver this, the plans to spin out, the proposals for each library and the development of the service, timescales and financial information.
The business case would then be further developed with representatives from the local communities across Lambeth so a proper staff/community mutual could be developed.