The Upper Norwood Joint Library is a substantial and sizeable public building and, as a self-contained, self-sufficient library authority, is a microcosm of a borough-wide library authority, offering a range and variety of library services.
For the visitor, it has the feel of a large district-type Inner London library. The key and fundamental difference is that the UNJL is not part of a library system, but is the whole system in its entirety. There are no supplementary staffing input or overhead costs that characterise conventional borough branch libraries.
Importantly, the total pro-rata cost of the Joint Library equates to approximately half that of the average Greater London spending on library services per resident served. For example, if a decentralised and community specific model of library service governance and management, such as that adopted by the UNJL, were introduced to another library service, currently costing say £8m per annum, the latter would have the opportunity to reduce its costs by around £4m.
Service users value the availability and visibility of experienced and helpful specialist professional librarians and ‘front-line’ assistants – an essential component of a modern library service and an imperative during this period of major socio-economic change.
Trained and experienced professional and specialist staff are greatly valued and are always available to provide expert assistance, advice and guidance in terms of access to printed and electronic resources and services to children, young people, adults and those seeking information or local history resources.
There is the limited use of volunteers – but, in accordance with the intentions of retired barrister Francis Bennion who drafted the 1964 Act, UNJL does not rely unduly on volunteers. Certainly volunteers are not used as a cheap replacement for paid skilled library staff.
Upper Norwood is a heritage-rich district. Located close to the site of Paxton’s renowned Crystal Palace, the UNJL fields a constant stream of local history enquiries. These arise from both the immediate locality, neighbouring and regional authorities, as well as nationally and internationally. Consequently, it is essential that both relevant resources and experienced staff assistance are consistently available on-site. This ensures that effective access to services can be facilitated by expert staff guidance.