We were at the protests in Windrush Square, Brixton on the 7th November – against the proposed cuts to Lambeth Libraries. As a result of the march and the council scrutiny committee meeting this week – there is going to be a reconsideration of the proposals. This doesn’t mean that the Library service is safe, but it does allow questions to be asked about the decision making process to shut down and change the usage of Library buildings in Lambeth.
One of the big problems in talking about Public Libraries, is the quality of data that is currently collected to show their impact. Impact is still being evaluated on the number of books that are borrowed and these are the figures that both central and local government use to judge a library service. This might sound correct in one sense – libraries have traditionally been a place borrow books; but for a long time now, Libraries are more than just places to access books.
Just to look at one aspect of the many other services they offer – lets take digital access – What is not being considered is the number of people using the free wifi or the amount of time that library staff are dedicating to helping people fill out their online benefit form or CVs.
Additionally, at a time when youth clubs and community centers are being shut down – where is a safe place for both young and old to go? – that doesn’t charge or ask people to buy a coffee
The Pew Research Foundation carried out a study on Philadelphia’s library system and found that even as more people access information and resources online – a mandate remains for those that require support: to learn how to use the internet, to access help looking for jobs, health information and navigating the benefit system. The Pew study showed that 65% of Americans think it would be a mistake to shut down their local public library.
Has anyone worked out how many of us don’t want our local library shut down? What we don’t have in London is a well funded research foundation gathering data to advocate for well informed discussions about public libraries – rather than just allowing politicians to use out dated and irrelevant information as a justification for making funding cuts.