Croydon’s New Libraries Plan

The Library Plan to be adopted by the Croydon Council’s Cabinet of Wednesday 7 May aims to transform Croydon’s library service whilst retaining thirteen libraries. It consists of the already printed Plan plus an officers’ report Inform, Involve, Inspire & Create – Croydon’s Cultural and Libraries Plans. The Library Plan sits alongside the Cultural Plan for Croydon (2019-2023) – see preceding posting.

The two documents can be downloaded here:

Public reports pack 07052019 1830 Cabinet

Aims of Plan

The Libraries Plan sets out to:

  • transform the thirteen libraries
  • provide a modern library service that will contribute to the delivery of Croydon Council’s Corporate and Cultural Plans
  • adopt a new approach to library delivery in Croydon, ranking libraries as either area hubs, branch libraries or local libraries.

Library Categories

Main hub: Central Library  serving the entire borough providing a comprehensive range of stock, including specialist collections, study space and public computers, partnership and staff led activities and events.

Area hubs: Thornton Heath and Selsdon, serving the north and south; with a book stock at a lower level than at the Central Library, and partnership and staff led activities and events.

Branch libraries: Ashburton, Coulsdon, New Addington, Norbury, Purley and South Norwood serving district centres, serving their communities with partnership activities.

Local libraries: Bradmore Green, Broad Green, Sanderstead and Shirley libraries, generally serving local areas

National Libraries Taskforce

The Libraries Plan ‘is grounded in the work of the national Libraries Taskforce; which has identified the following key outcomes that libraries are well placed to deliver:

  • cultural and creative enrichment
  • increased reading and literacy
  • improved digital access and literacy
  • achieving potential
  • greater prosperity
  • stronger more resilient communities
  • healthier and happier lives

Libraries as spaces

The libraries will be:

  • part of the Borough’s network of cultural venues
  • community hubs
  • venues where residents can access the information and services that are most relevant to them
  • spaces where community groups can meet

Technology

All the libraries will receive a technology upgrade which will include:

  • new, modern hardware for staff and the public
  • a new Library Management System including a library app and an upgrade of self-service technology, allowing for future integration with the computer booking system and printing services
  • A pilot OF ‘an innovative technology solution, Open +, which is already used in around 20% of UK libraries, to enable library buildings to be open for longer hours, enabling customers and community groups more access to library services and spaces. This system works from the residents’ library card and will be age restricted. Libraries are equipped with monitored CCTV.’

Options

Consultants were hired to review the options for the future of the Libraries. There report which is appended to the officers’ report examined the strengths and weaknesses and challenges and opportunities of each option.

  • Option 1: Make changes to staffing levels whilst maintaining the current library service
  • Option 2: Change library opening hours to reflect usage patterns
  • Option 3: Make extensive use of volunteers

What emerged is the  different approach the Plan is based on.

Analysis

Link with the Cultural Plan. The link of the Library and Cultural Plans is welcome. In my June 2016 comments on the report I argued:

‘Another key area of partnership should be through the libraries, with cultural activity providers and with schools.  There do not appear to be organised  mechanisms for the development of partnerships by the library service contractor and the local organisations and schools in the neighbourhoods they service. It is therefore to be hoped that the Library review report will discuss how libraries will fit into the cultural programme. As suggested by the survey of the views of 10 and 1 year olds at Norbury Manor Primary School submitted to the Library review, children value libraries and reading, and if they are to remain users into adulthood then the attraction of libraries has to be improved.’

Donations to Library Stock. Because the Plan cannot go into great detail there is no reference to the possibility of residents donating books to the Libraries. I raised the issue with the then Cabinet member, who replied: ‘Second hand books we do have to be careful of, in that we don’t want our libraries to become volunteer libraries full of dusty volumes. Good donations are important new or second hand, but how this fits overall needs working on. We recently had a £1,000 donation for travel books in the central library for instance. So central library no longer has a range of historical travel books but bang up to date guides!’ (email 23 February 2018).

I assume that the idea was parked as no officer contacted me to find out what I had to donate. So last month I drew the current Cabinet member’s attention to the  exchange with this predecessor.

I added: ‘One of the problems with Libraries across the country over the years has been the pruning out of stock because rarely borrowed. This means that there are less and less individual copies that can be borrowed on the inter-Library scheme, or can only be borrowed from the British Library. The latter is particularly expensive. There are also books which people have purchased which were too high a price for Libraries to buy. If the idea of donations is a goer then for example if they were deposited in the Central Library special events could be held to display them with a talk by donors as to why they are important books for the Library to have. Obviously there are some old stock that has to be pruned because they are falling apart or damaged; trying to find replacements from residents could be an aim.’

The Cabinet member replied (17 April): ‘I’m pretty sure people can already donate books to our libraries – there obviously have to be some parameters in place so will check on those and get back to you.’ He would discuss with the officers. I am waiting the outcome of that discussion.

Community Hubs. The idea of Libraries as community hubs is an important concept, which I had discussed in Should more community hubs be developed in Croydon? (Croydon Citizen. 16 July 2014.

‘Libraries have been mentioned to me but there are problems given the privatisation of their management and of course they have limitations of space. The former Ashburton Library could be one possibility with an asset transfer to a community trust, and re-configuring the access to separate it improve its security within the park setting.

The issue of hubs is one that cuts across different policy agendas: social inclusion, fairness, building community identification and links, fostering small businesses, developing cultural and other activities from the bottom up. It is to be hoped that in the coming months the development of hubs will appear within a range of new policy approaches.’

It  has become much easier for the Council to operate libraries as hubs once they came back into its control.

Top-down Plan Development. Like the Culture Plan the Libraries Plan can be seen as top-down. In 2016 the Council ran a libraries consultation. A full report of the findings and the Council’s response does not appear to have been  published, so we do not know to what extent the new Plan reflects the ideas and aspirations of those members of the public and Croydon organisations that responded. The responses included the views of Year 6 pupils at Norbury Manor Primary School based on a consultation I ran with them (https://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/croydons-children-think-libraries). While the children valued libraries and reading, I suggested that if they are to remain users into adulthood then the attraction of libraries has to be improved.

Public Consultation 2018. The Council ran another consultation last year. I therefore wrote to the then Cabinet member saying: ‘There was a consultation in 2016. You may recall I submitted the views of Year 6 pupils at Norbury Manor Primary School.  I never saw a report setting out the findings. Is it available? Is it being taken into account in the present exercise?’ He  sent the following reply: ‘The consultants have had all of that. And the results of the south Norwood consultations re new site. Croydon officers do like their consultants- but at least in this case it should move everything forward later in year.’ Note his ignoring the question of the report on the findings of the 2016. I have also written to the current Cabinet member to ask about the public report on the 2018 consultation.

History of Library. It is disappointing that the rich heritage of the Library Service has not been flagged up in the Plan as an inspiration to creating a new vision for the future. After telling him about the pioneering role of Stanley Jast, Croydon’s Chief Librarian in the 1890s to 1915, and he wanting more information, On 17 December I emailed the Cabinet member, with the web links:

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/lets-protect-croydons-pioneering-libraries

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/edwardian-library-legacy-anglo-pole

I added: that as Jast ‘was a major pioneer in development the wide range of library services; highly influential’ all staff should know about him to inspire them to contribute to making Croydon Libraries a leading model again.’ I do not know whether the Cabinet member acted on this suggestion.

Donations to Library Stock. It is disappointing that the Plan does not include a reference to book donations. I raised the issue with then then Cabinet member, who replied: ‘Second hand books we do have to be careful of, in that we don’t want our libraries to become volunteer libraries full of dusty volumes. Good donations are important new or second hand, but how this fits overall needs working on.

We recently had a £1,000 donation for travel books in the central library for instance. So central library no longer has a range of historical travel books but bang up to date guides!’ (email 23 February 2018). I assume that the idea was parked as no officer contacted me to find out what I had to donate. So last month I drew the current Cabinet member’s attention to the  exchange with this predecessor. Quite a few of people in Croydon have books in good condition that could be donated.

‘One of the problems with Libraries across the country over the years has been the pruning out of stock because rarely borrowed. This means that there are less and less individual copies that can be borrowed on the inter-Library scheme, or can only be borrowed from the British Library. The latter is particularly expensive. There are also books which people have purchased which were too high a price for Libraries to buy. If the idea of donations is a goer then for example if they were deposited in the Central Library special events could be held to display them with a talk by donors as to why they are important books for the Library to have. Obviously there are some old stock that has to be pruned because they are falling apart or damaged; trying to find replacements from residents could be an aim.’

The Cabinet member replied (17 April): ‘I’m pretty sure people can already donate books to our libraries – there obviously have to be some parameters in place so will check on those and get back to you.’ He would discuss with the officers. I am waiting the outcome of that discussion.

Inspiring Library History

It is  disappointing that the rich heritage of the Library Service has not be flagged up as an inspiration to creating a new vision for the future. On 17 December I emailed the Cabinet member after telling him about the pioneering role of Stanley Jast, Croydon’s Chief Librarian in the 1890s to 1915, and he wanting more information. My piece about him on Croydon Citizen can be read at:

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/politics-society/lets-protect-croydons-pioneering-libraries/

https://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/edwardian-library-legacy-anglo-pole/

I added: that as Jast ‘was a major pioneer in development the wide range of library services; highly influential’ all staff should know about him to inspire them to contribute to making Croydon Libraries a leading model again.’ I do not know yet whether the Cabinet member acted on this suggestion.

 

About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy, housing and environment issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly. I am a member of the Love Norbury Residents Associations Planning & Transport Committees, and Chair of Nobury Community Land Trust. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and edit the North East Popular Politics database. History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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