Volunteers will be shown how to run a library in two lessons
Sessions aimed at preventing closures
Published: September 1, 2011
by DAN CARRIER
WORKSHOPS showing people how to run a library in their spare time are to be held in the branches the Town Hall says it can no longer afford to operate.
The two 60-minute sessions, scheduled for next week, will give potential voluntary groups a better idea of exactly what they will need to do if they want to prevent their local branches closing in March next year.
Councillors agreed to stop funding the Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm branches in June, blaming a £83million cut in government funding.
The leisure department, responsible for running libraries, insists it has had no choice but to find 25 per cent cuts from the £8million set aside for libraries each year.
Friends of Heath Library treasurer Lee Montague, a critic of plans to force the libraries out of council control, said his group would attend the workshops but no decision had been made about whether a bid would go in to take control of the popular branch in Keats Grove, Hampstead.
He said: “We are in talks with other groups about what our role could be in the future.”
Mr Montague added that his group hoped to be able to make an announcement at its annual meeting in early November.
“A lot depends on information yet to be finalised, such as the ongoing running costs,” he said.
“It will be very hard to find between £100,000 and £150,000 a year to keep it open.”
Friends of Chalk Farm Library member Phillipa Jackson said the group would be holding a public meeting on September 19 to discuss setting up a working group to consider the next move.
“There are two key questions that remain unanswered: whether any group will have access to the council’s library management computer system and the size of book stocks,” she said.
Unison trade union convener for Camden, Phillip Lewis, dismissed the workshops as a sticking-plaster measure.
He said: “I simply do not think you can train someone or make them fully aware of what will be needed in two hours of workshops. It is just not possible to keep the same levels of service as having properly trained, full-time staff. This is mere window dressing.
“The council are showing they are willing to help people run the libraries but the groups who do take them on will have a massive shock on day one.”
He warned: “In a couple of years they will close. They just won’t be able to last the pace.”
Labour library chief Councillor Tulip Siddiq said: “We know how well-loved these libraries are and we will continue to do everything we can to support local organisations and groups who submit proposals to make these community-led initiatives a success for all involved.
“We have worked hard to involve the community in what were really tough decisions and I am confident the decisions we have reached represent the best possible outcome for our library service, given the financial challenge we face.
“The opportunities for community involvement are exciting – groups can really make whatever they want out of these spaces.
“I am looking forward to hearing from interested groups and learning about their ideas.”