Council defends under-fire library cuts
PUBLISHED: 12:36 22 October 2009 | UPDATED: 16:30 07 September 2010
LIBRARY bosses at Camden Council have defended proposals to cut jobs and introduce self-service book-checkout technology, as they officially launched their plans for the service online on Tuesday. Camden s culture tsar Cllr Flick Rea suffered a barrage of
LIBRARY bosses at Camden Council have defended proposals to cut jobs and introduce self-service book-checkout technology, as they officially launched their plans for the service online on Tuesday.
Camden's culture tsar Cllr Flick Rea suffered a barrage of criticism from library users following a meeting held at Belsize Library earlier this month, but on Tuesday (October 20) library bosses promised services would improve under the measures, despite the equivalent of 15 full time positions being axed across the 13 libraries.
At a briefing about the Growing Your Library project, which Cllr Rea did not attend, the council's assistant director for culture and sport, Fiona Dean, and head of libraries Mike Clarke offered a reason for the proposed changes which will be decided on next week (October 28).
Ms Dean said: "It's about getting more from our libraries and growing the number of visitors we get. We had 2.2 million visitors last year and we hope that figure will reach 2.4 million this year.
"All public services are going to struggle in the future with the recession. We are talking about central government funding. There are no proposals to close any of Camden's libraries but Cllr Rea is absolutely right - we need to demonstrate we are getting good value from our libraries."
One of the 'design principles' set out by the council is to build on its libraries' strength as "the biggest face to face contact point the council has with residents". But in 10 of the council's 13 libraries, technology would be introduced meaning library users can check out books without any human interaction whatever.
Ms Dean said: "Library staff will be near enquiry points and it will still be possible to find somebody who you can speak to. But we won't have two people sitting behind a counter all day long, which we do at the moment.
"There will always be library staff available and they will probably be the same staff library users have dealt with over the last few years."
Mr Clarke said the technology would free up staff to do things like host popular activities including baby rhyme time sessions, book reading events, learning groups and internet tuition sessions.
Another concern raised by users is about the role played by the head of the extremely popular local studies and archives department, currently based at Holborn Library. Under the proposals the person in this position would also be made responsible for two branch libraries and the information department, which critics say would essentially mean a 'watering down' of the position.
Ms Dean responded by saying the council increasingly believes there should not be a conflict between staff holding a senior management positions and specialised roles like the head of local studies. She said that what is crucial is that the best qualified staff are working in the department.
A sum of £1.5million is being put into the streamlining project in a bid to make Camden's library service, which currently costs £8.2million a year, more efficient. Do you think Camden's plans will be good for the borough's libraries? Write to letters@ hamhigh.co.uk.