Library services run by and for the community

Thanks to the concept of ‘shared expenses’, one of the greatest bonuses to Crystal Palace residents (as well as the ‘parent’ boroughs, Lambeth and Croydon) is that a wide-ranging, community-specific and extensive local resource is provided for local people at only half of the cost to each authority.

Governance of the service already follows Cooperative Council principles, with local elected members and community representatives sitting on the management committee for the Joint Library Authority. This ‘grass-roots’ involvement creates an on-going dialogue between the local authorities and the community which can only assist the quality and relevance of the service provided by the UNJL

When the current government were dreaming up the rationale for “big society” they must have been thinking of Upper Norwood Library as this community run, self-sufficient Joint Library offers all of the facilities, range of stock, staff expertise and services that one would expect to find in a ‘conventional’ library authority, but to a quality standard and level of performance that equals or betters that of other libraries. These standards are achieved in spite of a ratio of funding that is proportionately much lower than other library services. This means that the value for money offered by the Joint Library service ‘model’ is around 50% higher than that of the Greater London average.

Unlike other library services whose self-generated income is appropriated by the council, UNJL’s money from fines, fees, charges, sale of books, rentals etc., is re-invested in the service. This increases the motivation of Joint Library staff to innovate and strive to create higher use and take-up of their services.

The reputation and popularity of the services at the Joint Library and the annual programme of special events and activities that it holds has been instrumental in drawing people into the Crystal Palace area from farther afield. Traders and local businesses have acknowledged that this continues to benefit local commerce, whilst helping to raise the profile of the district as a whole.

Parents /guardians who attend the ‘Waggle and Hum’ sessions with small children then go on to use the local cafes and shops thus benefitting the local district. Older people create their own ‘day opportunities ‘ instead of attending day centres by spending time in the library regularly before using the local shops and restaurants. Unwaged persons are able to access newspapers and the internet in their search for work.

Autonomy over library spending allows the library to devote librarians to reading groups and to help groups and individuals on a daily basis. Compare this to other local Council run services where a head librarian is only available in this capacity once a month!

Upper Norwood Library Campaign research has indicated that a majority of the participants using more than one library (in addition to the UNJL) expressed a preference for the Joint Library. Formal consultation exercises (including CIPFA public library user surveys) have seen the UNJLA ‘out-scoring’ other local library authorities in most areas.