The Upper Norwood Joint Library – Latest News February 2011

This Library (the UNJL) is jointly funded by Croydon and Lambeth Councils. The current financial situation in both boroughs is not good. In Croydon, six of a total of thirteen libraries are threatened with closure. In Lambeth, two mobile libraries will be withdrawn next year (Croydon’s mobile library disappeared two years ago) and a public consultation will begin in April about the future of Lambeth’s libraries.

The Upper Norwood Library Campaign argue that this Library should not be closed, cut, nor subsumed into the library service of Croydon or Lambeth Council. Its funding history since the early 1980s has seen years of under-investment (by both boroughs in turn) and its budget for this year is carrying the equivalent of a 20% cut in ‘real-terms’. The Joint Library Agreement between Lambeth and Croydon obliges both boroughs to provide equal funding each year. Since 1983, this has happened only once.

With Bromley’s Anerley and Penge libraries facing the axe and two out of three Croydon libraries in the north of the borough under threat, it would be a disaster if funding for the UNJL was withdrawn. We remain concerned that Croydon Council are equivocal in their support and remember the numerous occasions where they have attempted to ‘take over’ the Joint Library. The Joint Library is the only remaining independent public library in this country and we want it to stay that way. We feel that it is better able to serve the needs of the Crystal Palace community because it is Crystal Palace’s library and not Croydon Council’s – nor for that matter, Lambeth Council’s.

Last year, Lambeth Councillor David Malone launched the Upper Norwood Joint Library Charter, which celebrated the continued independence of the Library under its Joint Library Agreement. The Charter was supported by every member of the Joint Library Management Committee – Labour and Conservative and was in turn, endorsed by the Leader of Croydon Council, Cllr Mike Fisher, who said “Croydon Councillors, just like their Lambeth counterparts, have already indicated their support for the Charter and I am happy to both endorse their actions and follow their lead.” 

Campaign members were appalled when, only three months later (and without any consultation with either the library staff or local residents), Cllr Fisher wrote to the Leader of Lambeth Council saying “We have looked at various options for reducing the cost of the (Joint) Library -potentially taking a different approach to how the service is delivered and how we can gain savings from it during 2011/12. An option for achieving this is that library services in Upper Norwood could be more economically operated by either Croydon or Lambeth, and integrated into a single borough-wide library service.” Having endorsed continued independence in March 2010, Cllr Fisher was thus performing a complete ‘volte-face’ in June.

A month later, Croydon Council issued a press release that advocated, “putting the library under the control of one of the two councils.” This initiative was justified by false and misleading financial and efficiency comparisons between the Joint Library and the Croydon library service – a similar smear to the one perpetrated by them in 2007.

Croydon alleged that the Joint Library “costs almost £100,000 a year more to operate than the average library” but neglected to make allowance for the fact that the Joint Library is a self-sufficient, ‘stand-alone’ library service that does not benefit from the expensive overheads, re-charges and support services of the Croydon library service. 

The whole, inclusive cost of the UNJL library service totalled £387,000 net in 2008-9, whilst the average cost of one of Croydon’s thirteen libraries in the same financial year was £606,607 net (excluding capital charges totalling a further £942,000). Because of shared funding with Lambeth, Croydon actually only paid £176,000 for the UNJL in 2008-9 – £430,000 less than the average cost of its own libraries. To us, this seems like a bargain, particularly bearing in mind that the Joint Library is around twice the size, or more, of most of Croydon’s libraries.

We see this as clear evidence that, unless they can dictate rigid terms (that we are sure are likely to be rejected by the residents of Upper Norwood), Croydon could withdraw from the Joint Library Agreement and bring about the closure of the UNJL.

We are also of the view that Croydon’s stance is more to do with a ‘control fixation’ than with value for money or ‘greater efficiency’. On any objective and impartial analysis, the Joint Library is much cheaper pro-rata, than Croydon’s own libraries and this fact has been confirmed by independent consultants (as well as Councillors from all three of the major political parties in Lambeth).

We are concerned that Croydon have consistently failed to deal with the UNJL and the library needs of the people and organisations of Crystal Palace, in a fair and objective way and that the present financial crisis may be used as a justification for further attacks on our unique, cost-effective and much-loved service. 

We would ask everybody who cares about our Library to be on their guard in the coming weeks. Councils will be finalising their budgets for 2011-12 during February and any further attempts to demean, undermine, cut, subsume or close our independent service must be met with swift and vigorous opposition.

The Joint Library has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s and numerous severe recessions since it first opened to the public in 1900. It provides opportunities for life-long learning, a brilliant Children’s Library that helps to create a love of books and reading in our kids from babies upwards, access to information and informal education, a fantastic programme of special events and activities each year and a free and welcoming space for the whole community to benefit from.

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