...at a price
THE SMALL LIBRARY in Bexley Village in south-east London is to be taken over and run by a charity, Greener Bexley, which will introduce charges for many services that are now free.
Regular users are critical of this move, saying they already pay for it through their council tax and it will create a two-tier service and discourage young people from using the library. And many are wondering if this is the shape of things to come for other council services.
Bexley Council has agreed the library will be managed by charity, Greener Bexley, through a community group called Bexley Village Community Library (BVCL), which will take over the library in spring, saving the council around £40,000 a year.
It will continue to offer free membership of the library but people will also be able to pay for memberships that provide extra benefits, at annual rates of £24 or £75.
All customers will pay to use the desktop IT facilities but wi-fi access will be free. BVCL will not loan CDs or DVDs, but instead it will sell them while encouraging their return after use so they can be re-sold.
David Hinds, of Hill Crescent, Bexley, is a regular user of the library. The retired grandfather-of-three said: "The bare bones of the agreement seem to be not quite what I was anticipating at all. I think it's all fairly appalling. I feel it's introducing a two-tier system."
BVCL will run the library independently of the council’s library network, though the council will supply some book stock on an annual basis and a part-time member of staff with experience of running a library.
BVCL is planning to introduce three levels of membership to the library:
* Reader’s ticket – free membership and free loans of stock, with some limits to the numbers of items which can be borrowed. Due dates and fines will apply.
* Library member – a £24 annual fee will see people join as full members of the wider charity. Benefits will include being able to borrow a higher number of books, keeping books for an unlimited time, a free period of use on the public computers, discounts in the cafe and priority booking for events.
* Gold membership – customers can join as a “patron” for a £75 annual subscription. Members would be making a donation to the running costs of the library and attracting additional funds to the charity through Gift Aid. BVCL will reinvest income earned through membership in new library stock.
Meanwhile the public sector union Unison is campaigning to defend library services from closure or being hived off like Bexley Village Library.
Unison, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI), Voices for the Library, The Library Campaign, Campaign for the Book and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) last week announced they will hold a joint lobby of Parliament calling on politicians to protect vital library services.
During the lobby, on 13th March, the campaigning group will highlight the importance of libraries in providing access to learning and as a vital lifeline for many communities. The lobby will take place at midday, on 13th March, at central Hall, Westminster.
Heather Wakefield, Unison head of local government, said: “Cutting libraries is not an easy solution for councils to save cash – it is a literacy time bomb for deprived communities.
“Community groups are being held to ransom by Government plans to force them to take over the running of services, or lose them. These groups don’t have the time, skills and resources to take over the jobs of experienced library staff.”