Friday, 19 July 2019

Bromley Libraries strike update, picket at the Central Library


A representative from the Save Lewisham Libraries Campaign joined striking Bromley library workers again today, this time outside of Bromley Central Library, as their dispute with Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) continues. The strike began on the 6th of June to protest against cuts being made to the Library Service. Many of the comments made by those standing outside of the library echo what members of the Lewisham campaign have been saying about libraries in our borough. That libraries are so much more than buildings containing books. One staff member stated that she had seen children grow up over her time at Bromley libraries, that those who used the libraries are a microcosm of society, that they were part of the library community and that ‘They are our friends’. Another went on the state that trying to run a library on so few staff meant that ’it’s going to grind to a halt; there are not enough staff to allow us to do our jobs properly’.  Workers and campaigners in Bromley have kept up an incredible fight for their precious libraries as councils all across London and the country have taken the axe to this vital and much loved service. We all need to do what we can to support their fight






Great public support for libraries and the strikers at Bromley Council meeting on 15th July

 To make a donation:


Cheques can be made payable to Bromley Unite. please send cheques and messages of support to 

Onay Kasab, Unite, 33-37 Moreland Street, EC1V 8BB

Bank details for donations are

Bromley Unite LE/531 Branch
Number 20272821
Sort 60 83 01

Monday, 8 July 2019

Inspiring library protest and picket outside Beckenham library today joined by local MP




Members of the Save Lewisham Libraries Campaign today joined a picket line outside of Beckenham Library in support of Bromley library workers. They have been out on indefinite strike since the 6th June in protest against cuts being made to the library service by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) who run libraries on behalf of Bromley Council. To win the contract, GLL promised Bromley Council that they would make cuts and that they would do this by not recruiting staff as posts became vacant. Following strike action last year GLL committed to filling vacant posts, but have decided to go against this agreement. GLL have also refused to pay staff what they would have received had they remained Bromley employees. The strikers and their supporters, who numbered around fifty, were also joined by Ellie Reeves, MP for Lewisham West and Penge. Many signatures were collected, with many library users and passers by having already signed. Songs were sung, flags were waved and car horns were tooted in support. As the strikers leaflet stated, 'Our Libraries, Our Services'. Act now to support this important campaign. Sign the petition at 

Kathy Smith from Bromley Unite on the Bromley library strike and how you can help

Bromley library workers are out on indefinite strike since 6 June against cuts and recruitment freezes at Bromley's  Greenwich Leisure Limited run libraries.

Kathy Smith, Bromley Unite branch secretary, outside GLL run Charton Lido with the Bromley library strikers, talking about what their dispute and how we can help.



To make a donation:

Cheques can be made payable to Bromley Unite and sent to 

Onay Kasab, Unite, 33-37 Moreland Street, EC1V 8BB

or bank details for donations are

Bromley Unite LE/531 Branch
Number 20272821
Sort 60 83 01



Sunday, 23 June 2019

Latest News!

June 2019

Thanks to everyone who came along to our stall this weekend. It was lovely to chat to so many people and hear what you think about the library service.

In case you couldn't get along the text of our latest leaflet is below.

Our next meeting will be on the 4th July at 7.15, venue TBC.

NEWS ON THE FEASIBILITY STUDY
The feasibility study into new plans for Lewisham Library has been finished. The proposals they looked at were all found to be unfeasible and so for now the only action they will take is to maintain the current building. The proposed cut has now come out of the council’s reserve funds but this is only temporary.

HORRIBLE HISTORY OF LIBRARY CUTS
Over the last decade, Lewisham borough has lost 9 out of 13 council-run libraries. These 9 libraries were handed over to outside organisations, with no professional library staff, just untrained volunteers. Since then, there has been a dramatic fall of 45% in book borrowing in the borough. 
Successive cuts have left many libraries in Lewisham with poor quality, disorganised book stock and an unskilled, voluntary workforce. 

HITTING THE POOREST HARDEST
10% of the population don’t have internet access at home. Many essential services are only accessible online, making digital services provided by the library absolutely essential for Universal Credit claims, rent payments, online banking, security checks, booking travel and communication with loved ones. Many vulnerable users need assistance from library staff to fulfil job and benefit requirements. And to fulfil the promise of a sanctuary borough, the council must consider that EU Settlement, Visa, Permanent Residence and Asylum applicants may need staffed libraries to assist them.

Quiet study spaces and research materials are also essential for low income households. The last published plans for cuts were rejected by council’s own committee as disproportionately effecting vulnerable people. Our campaign will oppose any cuts that hit the most disadvantaged in society.

JOB LOSSES
Many experienced library staff have been made redundant - 55 library workers in 2016 alone. Cutting Lewisham jobs at a time of austerity is bad for the borough. Replacing paid council staff with untrained volunteers managed by unaccountable organisations has been a disaster as predicted. 

OUR DEMANDS
Maintain current staff levels in Lewisham Library, Downham Library and Deptford Lounge Consult: Library workers, users and campaigners should be consulted in the formative stages of planning a new library for Lewisham.
Be transparent: Council should be clear and open about any future plans or cuts to the service.
Bring our libraries back in house: All controlled library services should be brought back in house with adequate, safe staffing levels.

TAKE ACTION
The campaign needs you! We meet regularly to discuss and plan actions. Contact savelewishamlibraries@gmail.com with any ideas or ways you can help, and to be added to the mailing list to receive information about forthcoming meetings, events and actions.

Raise awareness of the value of good quality libraries: Tell us why you value the service, or use your own social media with the hashtag #savelewishamlibraries

Send a letter forwarding your concerns and our demands to your own electoral ward’s councillors and your constituency Member of Parliament, using Writetothem.com. Be sure to mention you are a resident. 

Email Councillor Jonathan Slater, who is responsible for Libraries, (cllr_jonathan. slater@lewisham.gov.uk) and Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan (damien.egan@ lewisham.gov.uk) 

Email: savelewishamlibraries@gmail.com

Friday, 3 May 2019

The Library: An oasis for me and my daughter

As the parent of a child with special educational needs (SEN), libraries have proved to be my salvation over the years. I know where they all are throughout London, from the local library in Lewisham, Charing Cross library in the heart of the city, the Saison Poetry Library and onto the British Library. In a large, busy and sometimes frightening city, they are oases of calm where my daughter can find refuge. They are places where she can go to engage in her favourite pastime, reading. As a one income household with rent and bills to pay, I can keep her supplied with a never-ending stream of wonderful books that I could never afford to buy. I’ll never forget her face when she was ploughing through the history books on the open shelves in the reference section of Lewisham Library, cross referencing dates and names, completely engrossed; her reaction to the language of Dickens upon reading the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, her wide eyes and her ‘wow’ as she gazed at me in awe and joy. These are occurrences that I could never have experienced without my local library.

When you are a parent or carer of a child with SEN/disabilities, you can feel very isolated. Even as a member of a support group or Facebook group, for many people social interactions with other adults, other than health or education professionals, can be minimal. For me, in times past, there were many days when the only adult conversation I had during the day was with library staff. A smile and a brief chat can help you remember who you are and what you care about. I know that I am not alone. 

Recently, on a trip to the opticians, my daughter had a complete meltdown. I stood while tears and snot and shouting happened. These events can leave you feeling drained and helpless. Once she had calmed down she elected to go to the library, a place where she feels safe and secure and where she can read, her mechanism to help her cope with life. I walked in and was greeted by a smiling face of a lovely librarian who knows both of us. She had been thinking of us as she had recently checked in a book that she thought my daughter would enjoy. Suddenly, the world felt a much better place. It may have been a small event for the librarian, but it was life affirming for me.

Libraries are so much more than buildings that are filled with books. They are a community, a social service, a place where we and our children can grow and learn about the world and our place in it. They are a part of who we are and how we live life. I can safely say they are essential for my sanity!

Monday, 8 April 2019

The Unfeasible Study Rumbled! Demand better and take action

What's Going On
Libraries in Lewisham face a cut of almost half a million pounds to their annual budget starting in the new financial year beginning this April. Protest in 2018 led to council’s own committees rejecting the whole range of proposed plans for how the cut could be structured. We believe any cut to the service would disproportionately affect vulnerable people and protected groups. This affect was acknowledged as inherent in every option of the cut put forward, and its the reason why all options were referenced back by council's committee. Council then declared the cut ‘on hold’ which is misleading as it remains on the same schedule as always in their financial plan. Council said they were waiting to share their plans until a feasibility study into construction work at Lewisham Library was sufficiently advanced or finished.

The timing means that public consultation can only be a mere afterthought: consider that pressure is on to see savings starting in this same April; clearly this approach leaves contributions by stakeholders too late. To quote a recent answer to a public question submitted to council by the campaign, too late actually, for library users, staff and unions to feasibly have any impact on the formative ‘high level’ stages of the plan.That applies especially to potentially outright rejecting the plan, as it would mean renegotiating the budget in other areas and there would not be adequate time. It will only remain for us to have a say that might tweak the ‘detail’.

As a result the campaign has concerns that this feasibility study will have no effect on the plans for implementing the proposed cuts. Will it be a convenient example they can point to and claim they have done due diligence on this front as they put through cuts? In reality, if the council begin implementing the cuts and redundancies this year before consultation has been done, they could face a judicial review. Consultation becomes unreal if the result is actually foregone conclusion. We remain worried they could try to make redundancies in September. We hope staff are treated with respect and kept fully informed, not kept in the dark about their future.

It has recently broken news in the Newshopper. Read their report here https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/17553370.lewisham-library-redevelopment-study-due-next-month/


What's the History?
Lewisham Libraries Service has been cut drastically over the last decade, and the promised improvement to the service of the community library scheme that puts volunteers in place of staff managed by various unaccountable organisations has been a predictable disaster: Recently a new IT system was put in place and several community libraries couldn’t lend, return or renew books. While some services in the UK thrive, with increased borrowing and use, Lewisham languishes with a huge fall in borrowing, due to reduced opening hours, poor stock, privatisation by the back door and de-skilling as so many librarians and assistants were made redundant including union activists.


Demands - What is it our campaign must win?
To Save Lewisham Libraries we’ll use every avenue we can, from public appeals, protests and press releases to private correspondence lobbying. More suggested actions and plans you can get involved with to follow.
TRANSPARENCY – Expose the decision-making for services reliant on public funds.
    We demand the public release of the brief given to internal consultants of the feasibility study, and for consultation with the public to be launched immediately. What goals must the plan meet to be defined feasible?
    Additionally we demand immediate public scrutiny of the  plans for how to cut the service beside the feasibility study.
    We demand regular meetings with the councillors responsible for the service.
    We demand an audit of the community libraries, which aren't being held accountable on the standard service delivery the scheme guaranteed, council pledged meant to take back in house services that fail in the hands of community organisation, and has been turning a blind eye, particularly at Crofton Park.  We shouldn't have to make these demands, we should be able to expect this diligence.

ACCOUNTABILITY - Hold to account all the authorities over Lewisham irresponsibly de-skilling, casualising and degrading the Library service.
    We shall expose how not just Tory cuts to local authorities but the council's decisions on how to deploy that shrinking budget have been made on poor values and not the values of solidarity and socialism they were elected on.
    This is in order to make the case for a more realistic approach: Resistance has always been and is increasingly the only responsible direction. We can see where acquiescence gets us. We’ll analyse what’s been done and look at councils that prove bolder approaches pay dividends, and raise awareness of what can technically and politically be done now.

ANTI-AUSTERITY AGENDA - Stop further damage and raise awareness of the need for the service to return to form. Right now we are at breaking point, and council is still pursuing David Cameron's Localism and Big Society idea, which was always an excuse for making crucial services precarious. Council must start enacting alternative strategies like the Preston Model for fair local procurement and municipal socialism.
    We must raise the public consciousness of how vital a professional statutory library service is, how we can’t afford to see it run down, remembering what is being lost, what qualities a good service delivers and what underpins that.
    National government, needless to say, needs to bring local authority funding back to normal, back to the levels pre 2008 crash, with immediate effect, and thereupon all libraries should be taken back in house and a mobile library services set up again, along with serious investment in the collection online and off, suspension of fines, and ensuring all libraries have a quiet reading area.

How to take action for this
Join our next stall flyering to raise awareness midday Saturday the 18th May 2019 outside the Deptford Lounge Library, Deptford High Street.
Join our next meeting  
Monday, 15 April 2019 from 19:15-21:00 and the venue is still to be announced:

Use our template of suggested points collected by one of our activists as inspiration to put in your own words your concern in emails to your representatives. You could start with your few local ward councillors and MP easily using Writetothem.com.
Then use your own email application to contact: Councillor responsible for Lewisham libraries, the Lewisham Mayor and the Chair of Safer Stronger Communities Select Committee, and UK Government minister with responsibilities for Libraries:
cllr_jonathan.slater@lewisham.gov.uk, damien.egan@lewisham.gov.uk, cllr_Juliet.Campbell@lewisham.gov.uk, michael.ellis.mp@parliament.uk

Raise it at your next local assembly, of local public engagement with representatives!
in your trade union and local branch of your political party, if you're in one.
In your own time distribute copies of our latest flyer: (which we'll link here when its ready)
Get in the know the better to argue, by checking out the links on our resources page








Saturday, 6 April 2019

Can we (please!) be more ambitious for our libraries?

“We do mind-building, soul-affirming, life-saving work”. - Khalil Gibran Muhammad, former director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library


Imagine if the British Library was open to everyone, and was also responsible for running all the local libraries in London. The funding, I suppose, would come partly from the Mayor’s office, with the rest coming from private donations. That’s the closest I can get to describing the New York Public Library system as depicted in Frederick Wiseman’s documentary Ex Libris, shown at Deptford Cinema last weekend.

The film is 3hrs 17 minutes long, which I appreciate sounds like a big commitment if you’re not a library nerd. But it doesn’t have a narrative, so you could watch it in chunks, or watch just half an hour of it to get the idea. I would urge anyone with responsibility for libraries to do so. The film moves from librarians and other staff on the front line, to glimpses of public events, footage of the many different services that take place across the library network – lectures, reading groups, baby sessions, kids’ programming classes -  and a number of administrative meetings. While watching it felt like there were perhaps too many of these, but in fact they are the scenes that have really stayed with me. In every scene the leadership demonstrate passion, strong values, and most strikingly ambition.

This is what comes through most in the film, and has nothing to do with available funds or staffing structures. The management team are clearly aiming to meet not only their statutory requirements, but asking how they can go further. All their plans are underpinned by their mission, as they ask themselves not just what they need to do but what could they possibly do? How are they serving the communities they are working in? We see how they are constantly monitoring how their needs change and looking at how they can continue to meet them; planning alongside educators to make sure their collections meet the needs of students and teachers; considering their duty to homeless New Yorkers who use the library; providing local people with internet access at home, to help them develop their digital skills and access the library’s online services. There is such a strong sense of a mission, a passionate belief in who and what libraries are for.

Rather than exporting a model that treats libraries as a problem, rather than the solution to many problems, we should be learning from the places that have got it right – Chester West & Chester were the winners of last year’s Guardian’s Public Service awards for their ambitious Storyhouse project. Funded partly by the local authority and partly by the Arts Council and other trusts (see the Guardian article here), Storyhouse combines a new library, cinema and theatre and is run by the council’s library services team. The result?

“Today, visitor numbers have rocketed by more than half a million, library membership has increased by 6% – up 11% among teenagers – and book borrowing is on the rise.”

The size and scope of the two are very different, but what Chester and New York have in common is ambition. Someone, somewhere in Chester thought big and then tried to make it happen. We may not be able to spend that much, or raise that much in additional funding, and we might not have a spare art deco building lying about, but surely we can do better than the minimum? Rather than asking how little can we get away with spending on our library service, why not ask how much we could get away with spending? What’s the best we could do with what we have, and what could we do if we had a bit more?

But with the best will in the world, such a service cannot be run on a shoestring. A service that goes above and beyond for its residents cannot rely mostly on volunteers, however passionate they may be. We need trained staff who can help the public with the wide variety of issues they have, and staffed opening hours that can meet the community’s needs.

I’m not suggesting that we move to a public-private partnership like New York, or that we could replicate their budget, but imagine if we could replicate the kind of ambition that both New York and Chester have for their libraries. I appreciate that these are hard times, and I’m aware of the huge cuts local authorities have suffered under austerity, but an ambitious library strategy would connect the service to other council goals – (as such they could be said to be part of social care strategies rather than leisure). As described in previous blogs, libraries are pivotal in reducing loneliness in older people, and supporting people living in poverty. The council aims to be a sanctuary borough, and admirably plans to welcome 100 refugee families in the next year, aims to improve our secondary schools, reduce knife crime and make Lewisham safer. Libraries can support all these ambitions, and should be seen as an intrinsic part of all those strategies, rather than a hindrance to them, just another rival for funding.

We await the results of the council’s feasibility study into the possibility of rebuilding Lewisham Library. I hope the council will take this opportunity to ‘think big’ for libraries, and will see the true value of a professionally staffed, well-funded and ambitious service.

Ex Libris film review by a Save Lewisham Libraries campaigner