Council meetings

Agenda item

Libraries and Information Service



That the report be noted.



James Lee, Director of Communities, Partnerships and Leisure

Sidra Hill-Reid, Head of Community Education and Cultural Assets


Key points from discussion

The witnesses introduced the report. Key points included:

3.1.         There were synergies across the back-office functions of the services comprising the new Community Education and Cultural Assets Service. 

3.2.         Savings of 55 per cent (in cash terms) had been achieved by the Libraries Service since the adoption of the community libraries model.

3.3.         The community libraries model was internationally regarded as one of best practice and had enabled all of the Council’s libraries to remain open despite funding reductions.

3.4.         Libraries engaged with all of the Council’s strategic themes and were a key delivery mechanism under the Culture Strategy. There was opportunity for them to increase their role as partners and gateways to a number of council services.

3.5.         Book issues were exceeding, but footfall (partially due to the partial closure of Lewisham Library) was still significantly lower than, pre-Covid 19 levels.

3.6.         The proportion of library members – 88 per cent – declaring a disability required interrogation.

3.7.         The Community Library model ensured a locality-based offer while supporting voluntary and community sector (VCS) organisations and enabling them to provide volunteering opportunities to the community.

3.8.         The Library Service was reviewing Blackheath, Crofton Park and Grove Park community libraries’ arrangements and long-term sustainability.

3.9.         Blackheath Library’s provider was experiencing challenges with recruiting volunteers but was committed to maintaining its service and was being supported by the Library Service.

3.10.     Eco Communities had sought to withdraw from Crofton Park and Grove Park Libraries at short notice. Owing to issues relating to sub-tenants, Eco Communities was unable to withdraw from Crofton Park Library currently and was continuing to deliver the service and Grove Park Library remained closed despite the identification of a new provider.

3.11.     The community library model was to be reviewed and an annual community libraries review process developed to ensure adequate support for, and quality assurance of, community library providers.

3.12.     Lewisham Library was at RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stage 2.

The Committee then put questions to witnesses:

3.13.     Under a wider restructure as part of the Borough of Culture Legacy, increased senior management capacity had been installed to provide strategic direction to the Service. Long-standing issues had been identified and the Service was being stabilised. The Director was confident that the management team had a strong grip of where the issues lay.

3.14.     The Council’s oversight of community libraries had previously lacked due diligence, care and attention, leading to the recent issues and the ongoing reviews. Improved governance and focus was required, and would be implemented.

3.15.     The decant of Lewisham Library had been challenging and time consuming.

3.16.     There was a question of whether the current community library offer – where one provider ran three libraries – reflected the original intent of the model: hyper-local management of libraries by the communities they served.

3.17.     The review of community library model would consider the equity of library provision and access across the borough. It was noted that community libraries being closed on certain days could result from the challenges of finding volunteer staffing, the resilience of voluntary workforces or providers’ need to generate income.

3.18.     The Service had committed to bringing forward recommendations on a potential increase in opening hours for hub libraries and a new fines and charges policy. However, the closure of Lewisham Library had offset the costs of reopening Catford Library, and the Service did not want to increase opening hours to only reduce them again once Lewisham Library reopened.

3.19.     In the short term, the Service was aiming to deliver an in-year underspend to offset overspending elsewhere in the Council.

3.20.     Proposals to deliver more services from the Downham Health and Leisure Centre, which contained Downham Library, were likely to be brought forward in the new year. There were issues relating the building’s PFI contract, but those were not likely to be restrictive.

3.21.     There was a lack of recent qualitative data on the operation and impact of libraries; such data were to be acquired through the review of community libraries and engagement relating to the proposed new library strategy.

3.22.     The Library Service’s offers went beyond what was available in its buildings, with services provided to schools and outreach to other residents. The Service could do more to publicise its free to access collective offer.

3.23.     The notices required under the leases of community libraries provided sufficient time for an alternative provider to be secured when a provider withdrew.

3.24.     Lewisham Library would generate income to sustain library services. The community was to be consulted regarding how the library was experienced by its users.

3.25.     The Service, and the public, valued staffed, as opposed to self-service, libraries/opening hours.

3.26.     The Service was to explore opportunities for income generation. There was less potential for income generation by hub libraries, which were used by the community and partners a lot.

3.27.     Fines – which were not presently being collected– generated negligible income and served primarily to assign notional value to materials. Ensuring residents were not discouraged from accessing libraries was the priority.

3.28.     The regeneration of Catford created opportunity to co-locate services and generate income in a new library.

3.29.     In relation to the proposed Library Strategy, the Director committed to the Service reviewing the sustainability of the library service and community library model, current income generation and further income generation opportunities, and effectively engaging, consulting and communicating with the community.


The Head of Community Education and Cultural Assets to provide detail on the other activities undertaken by the Library Service, such as outreach and services provided to schools.



That the report be noted.

Supporting documents: