Chaired by Head of Library Services Antonio Rizzo, Head of Community Services Aileen Buckton and with Cllr Chris Best, the audience was disappointed again and again when pressing the panel for information upon which they could base a decision.
There were complaints about the timescale and the lack of printed consultation documents.
One gentleman pointed out ‘the essence of the library is in the written word’. The council is not providing this for the public in the form of a printed information pack. Still, as before, aside from those who visit the council homepage or wander into a library there is no publicity. It was then agreed by panel members more should have been done – two meetings in to this six-week process.
But the main shock of the evening would have been to staff present, who heard several times from Aileen Buckton, and with the assurances of our Head of Service Antonio Rizzo, that community libraries offer a better service than that of their own colleagues seated in the room.
This betrayal cuts deep but there was public support in the room, with several highlighting the loss of intellectual capital through redundancies and one making the point that regardless of £3m, library staff are priceless. Perhaps he had seen Catford library described by TimeOut as “the most helpful librarians I’ve ever met”.
We now need to shout the message loud and clear that community libraries do not and cannot offer an equal service to staff in Lewisham. The accounts from the panel do not accord with our daily experience and the benevolence of those volunteers staffing community libraries is being used to enact cuts we can be sure they do not favour.
Aside from growing union membership there is a growing campaign on Twitter (@SaveLewLibs) and we have enquiries from the press - please encourage the public, friends and family to bombard them with messages of support and concern about these proposals.