Lewisham Council are launching a consultation on our Library Service. We have concerns that the way it is worded may mislead residents into losing crucial parts of the service. And also that others cannot access the consultation at all
The council say that “the Library Service will be reducing its costs by £300,000 per year and will do so while looking at how best it uses staff.” and “We plan to maintain our building opening hours but may need to change the way we work, and we can do so by better understanding how your life has changed in the last year and what issues will be critical to your lives in the next few years. We welcome responses from all of our residents, visitors to Lewisham, services users and those who have never used a library before. We’d also like to hear from organisations that already work with the library service or would like to work with us in the future.”
But in this cosultationnstead of asking a straightforward question, “do you want library staff in your libraris?” which we feel most if not all residents would say yes to, the council asks:
“6. How important are the following activities to you?”
Browsing and borrowing books from the library on my own
Browsing and borrowing books from the library with help from staff
Browsing and borrowing online resources (e.g. eBooks) from the library on my own
Browsing and borrowing online (e.g. eBooks) from the library with help from staff
7. How important are the following?
Accessing computers in the library on my own
Accessing computers in the library with help from staffSo peoplw
Library staff in Lewisham (and everywhere) do far more than just assist with borrowing books and accessing computers – they give advice, discussion, social access, information, help with filling in job and benefit applications and other admin, assistance, supervision, activities, and many other things. We are very concerned at the reduction of what the library staff do to “accessing computers” and helping browse and borrow. Many people may complete these questions not realising what it seems it is actually asking is ‘do you want library workers in the library or not.’
And those library users who do need assistance or help in the library may not even be able to access this online form to fill it in and most people who use the internet in the library don’t have the internet at home so how are they going to be consulted?
There will be serious implications for Lewisham residents if the council moves to staffless self service at any time in the 4 Libraries it still runs, Lewisham has been relying on volunteer run “community” libraries to provide some sort of service in 8 of the borough’s libraries but because of Covid recruiting volunteers for a front line service is very difficult, Blackheath Village Library is re-opening for only for 8 hours a week, due to lack of volunteers. Lewisham should not be cutting council run libraries, staffing and staffed hours at a time while the community/volunteer model is struggling and reducing the service they provide.
At a time when we need investment in our community resources to support our residents, children and families in recovering from the effects of the pandemic, slashing library staff is not going to help (and in a year where Lewisham is going to be Borough of Culture)
As the council will not ask you if you want trained and experienced library staff whenever you visit a library and who will be there when you need them we recommend that Lewisham residents and library users answer questions 6 and 7 to say that you want help from staff with borrowing books, using online services and borrowing ebooks and with accessing computers. Library staff can help you with much more than this but if we don’t say we need this help then for much of the time staff will not be there and a library in Lewisham will just be a building with some books, some PCs and a security guard.