New Lambeth library consultation complaint

Library protesters at a Lambeth council meeting
Library protesters at a Lambeth council meeting

Forms for the Lambeth council consultation on the future of Tate South Lambeth Library (TSL) ran out at the library after four days and no more have been supplied, campaigners have charged.

Christina Burnett of Vauxhall CIC, a social enterprise that works closely with the library, said this made the consultation period invalid. The council is seeking views on which of two libraries, TSL and Durning in Kennington, should become a gym with an unstaffed book area. The other would become a “town centre” library with council funding and staff.

The council plans to turn three libraries into gyms run by its leisure provider, the not for profit company GLL.

The consultation questionnaire has already been described by TSL supporters as “fake” for not posing the “fundamental” question: “Which of the two libraries do you think should be the town centre library?”. The questions appear to show that the council’s favoured option is for Durning to become the town centre library.

In an open letter to Jane Edbrooke, the council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods and in charge of its library plans, Christina Burnett accused her of planning to “destroy” TSL.

She said: “It was only after your secret negotiations with GLL that Durning suddenly became the ‘best’ site for a full-service library. The vast majority of respondents to the first consultation [on plans now abandoned by the council] were either in favour of Tate South Lambeth, or stated no preference.”

Christina Burnett said TSL was the only library in Lambeth that consistently won national recognition and awards for innovative digital and assistive work with protected groups.

She said figures for October 2015 showed that 17,666 people had visited TSL compared to only 4,527 for Durning. Annual figures for 2014/15 showed a 69% increase in footfall at TSL but a 29% decrease at Durning. Only three other Lambeth libraries had more visitors than TSL – Clapham, Brixton and Streatham.

She said TSL’s innovative work would be destroyed if the council got its way and listed further objections including:

  • TSL computer usage is regularly first or second highest in the whole of Lambeth and the library is home to the five year old Digital Bazaar skill sharing project that could not gain enough community support to run at Durning. It is self sustaining, unlike the council’s Digibuddies scheme that cost £70,000.
  • Computers and their broadband links to the internet regularly break down. “In the proposed gym plus unstaffed ‘community lounge’ of your GLL model, most of the computers will not be working, most of the time.”
  • TSL is the only UK library to be nominated by disabled people for an Accessible Britain Challenge Award and is currently the lead library in Lambeth for visual impairment/dyslexia. It also holds the council’s collection of braille children’s books and the library service’s only braille machine.
  • Work at TSL brought Lambeth recognition as the most accessible library service in England. In the Department for Culture Media and Sport Libraries Report 2014 this work was chosen as one of only three best-practice case studies in England and described as “unique, pioneering and innovative within public libraries”.
  • TSL is surrounded by modern purpose-built gyms and the council had acknowledged an over-supply of gym facilities in the north of the borough.
  • The Durning building requires large expenditure – £800,000 listed in the council’s plans – TSL does not. “To divert hundreds of thousands of pounds of scarce money into converting TSL into an unwanted gym, making it inaccessible for people with disabilities (and which will be certain to fail within a few years) is a gross waste of council funds and does not represent value for money.”

In March last year, the council was promoting the achievements of TSL in its online news service, saying then culture minister Ed Vaizey had been “inspired by the council’s innovative technology that helped visually impaired people read and use computers”.

He had joined Cllr Sally Prentice, the then council’s cabinet member for culture and leisure, at TSL: “The first library in the country to introduce the technology”.

The council noted that the equipment was introduced to TSL by Christina Burnett. Cllr Prentice said: “Lambeth is leading the way in getting this kind of technology into public libraries where everyone can use it. Christina has done an amazing job in introducing this technology which has incredible impact on the quality of life for blind and partially sighted people. It increases the information available to visually impaired people and gives them more independence.

“While some of the software is free, much of the equipment would be too expensive to provide on an individual basis so providing it in public libraries allows more people to benefit from it and reflects Lambeth’s innovative Cooperative Council.”

Read Christina Burnett’s full letter (Microsoft Word document download).