Future of Camden's libraries under question

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By LiseS | Thursday, June 16, 2011, 18:01

The findings of a recent consultation on the future of Camden's library service were discussed by a Cabinet meeting last week. The council is aiming to reduce spending on the library service by £1.6million as part of a wider scheme to save £100million over three years, and asked residents whether they would prefer to keep fewer libraries open or reduce opening hours across the borough.

The survey found that many residents use more than one library across Camden and do not feel tied to a local library.  People under 45 were more likely to prefer fewer libraries across the borough offering better services, with older residents feeling that a local library service is important. Overall, 57% of people who responded to the survey would prefer to keep all 13 of Camden's libraries open with reduced opening hours.

Councillors voted to hand over the Belsize Park, Chalk Farm and Heath libraries to community groups and cease funding from mid-2012. Under proposal A, passed by Cabinet last week, Highgate library will also be required to seek alternative funding and share its space with other council services. The mobile library service is also to be cut completely, and opening hours across all branches reduced by 10%.

The proposal passed last week has since been called in, meaning the decision will be passed back to the council's Scrutiny Committee. The call-in may require Cabinet to look at the decision again. Until the Scrutiny Committe reach a decision, none of the changes outlined in Proposal A will be made.

Library managers have already expressed concern at the feasibility of managing library sites using volunteer staff, or raising the necessary funding to pay staff. It may come as little surprise that although 72% of survey respondents agreed that more volunteers should be used in Camden's libraries, only 36% expressed an interest in volunteering themselves.

The call-in may mean a reconsideration of the proposal, or may simply see the decision handed back to Cabinet. We'll keep you updated.

Image: David Smith

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