Ex Libraries

Look at these two charts, and tell me when you think our library was destroyed.

Number of books issued in Blackheath Village libraries from April - October 2011

Number of books issued in Blackheath Village libraries from April to October 2011

Visits to Blackheath Libraries between April - October 2011

Visits to Blackheath Libraries between April - October 2011

The Age Exchange Library is a joke.

In May 6,758 items were borrowed from the library in Blackheath Village. Then the library was closed, and replaced with a community library in Age Exchange. In October, after the Age Exchange library had been open for 3 months, only 832 items were borrowed.

“I didn’t come into civic life to close libraries”, I believe is the familiar refrain. So don’t. Re-open the real library. I don’t care how you do it, find a way. Otherwise you’ve just guaranteed the quickest, most efficient way to dumb down an entire generation. Shame on you vandals.

The data comes from questions by councillor David Britton (a Tory with a slightly scary looking union jack on the blog head), made available by Lewisham councillor Christine Best, the cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, at a council meeting on 29th November:

Here are the two google docs: Question Answer

Including an apology for the crappy numbers:

There have been some initial difficulties with data collection from the Community Libraries, and the Service overall has had a difficult year, completing a major staff reorganization and the introduction of new technologies. The implementation of such major change has had a negative impact on performance, but the Service is confident that both issues and visits will now begin to increase.

Yes, a bit. Maybe. Or perhaps it will just be wound down and closed.

See also: The Bookseller: Catastrophic plunge in lending at Lewisham’s community libraries


Filed under blackheath, books, library

15 responses to “Ex Libraries

  1. Kevin Bonavia

    Sorry but I don’t think it’s a joke. Limited as the current operation is in terms of opening hours, space and book collection, it is a temporary library that exists because many local people give their own time as volunteers and because it got public funding from the votes of residents at the Blackheath Assembly until the permanent library opens at the front of Age Exchange next year.

    The library service is not being wound down to closure. The permanent library will be double the size, open on Saturdays again and facing the centre of the Village. Whilst it will not be run by the Lewisham Libraries Service, it will be connected to the borough’s book stock meaning it will be possible to order books on a 24 hour service.

    Why all this hassle? You ask about finding the way to keep the old library open. The choices in finding £88 million to plug the gap from central government in the next four years are stark. If the Council is to protect services for the most vulnerable, not least adult social care, then many universal services, like libraries, were going to be squeezed. The question was whether to reduce services across all sites or stop operating some sites. The latter choice was taken, but after a successful campaign by councillors and 1,000s of residents in Blackheath and across the borough, financial and logistical support has been given by the Council to public libraries run as community projects.

    Maybe time will tell if these were the wrong choices, but for the medium term we still have a library that will soon get bigger and act not only as a source of information and entertainment, but as part of larger and revamped Age Exchange become the public community space for everyone in Blackheath.

    • I think you’ve given Age Exchange (an excellent charity) a fairly large amount of public money, and in the long term, we’re going to lose our library completely. Let’s come back in a couple of years and see.

    • Michelle O'Brien

      This is one for the “well-he-would-say-that-wouldn’t-he?” department, I think …

      Councillor Kevin Bonavia, an up-and-coming young lawyer, is a Labour Party member of Lewisham Council for Blackheath ward and a onetime Labour hopeful for a Parliamentary seat.

      He was appointed a trustee of Sir Ian Mills’ Age Concern when Age Concern, in a deal backed by Blackheath Society, got its one-off £200,000 this year from Lewisham Council in exchange for taking over running Blackheath Village Library.

      Councillor Bonavia is a member of the Council’s Sustainable Development Select Committee.

      To say that Age Concern got the £200,000 “from the votes of residents at the Blackheath Assembly” is stretching it a bit, I feel, Councillor.

      The Blackheath Assembly is an unelected and unanswerable tea-and-biscuits consultation group set up by Lewisham Council. It’s open to anybody at all to go along and vote, including non-Lewisham Blackheath residents like me.

      It was given a list of “good cause” funding applications to Lewisham Council, including the one by Age Concern for £200,000 for the library, and was asked to choose among them, given current limits to council spending.

      It was a little bit like asking kids to vote on which they prefer – Christmas presents or more hours in the school gym and extra maths lessons.

      • Kevin Bonavia


        I’ve said the above because I really believe the Age Exchange (not Age Concern, which is a different and not locally-based charity) library can be a success. I believe that because of the people I know who have put so much effort in. But I also appreciate we’re in uncharted water here, so its success really does depend on those providing and using the service – ie us residents – making it work. The current low usage means we can’t just wait and hope the new permanent library will automatically revere all that – we need to work it now, not least in telling people it’s there for them.

        Right now the current library is operating on a temporary basis, and it is that operation which got £30,000 from the Blackheath Assembly. You’re right, the Assembly is not elected – that’s because it’s open to everyone living, working or studying in the ward ie direct democracy. And nobody is excluded from attending; if you remember, at the July meeting, all 120 or so attendees were asked only to vote if they met the live/work/study criteria on an “honesty” basis. I am sure you did not!

        The one-off funding of £200,000 from the Council has been made to cover the costs of setting up the library service and meet the shortfall in Age Exchange’s income from its own services plus the loss of the annual grant from Greenwich Council. In the case of the other 4 library sites in the borough that were closed, the Council owned the land so was in a position to transfer that to the library provider, which would gain a source of income to meet library costs. The old library in Blackheath was leased by the Council, so direct funding from the Council was needed to make the new one viable.

        Incidentally, I am also on the Healthier Communities select committee, which scrutinises the library service. We asked for a review of the community library service at our next meeting on Wednesday, 14 December. The report on which we will ask questions is on the agenda here: http://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=133&MId=2105 It’s a meeting held in public so please come if you can – 7 pm in the Civic Suite at the Town Hall in Catford.

  2. ElizaF

    Shame, shame, shame on all on all of us. We will be the ones to pay for the sins of the ignorant.

    • Michelle O'Brien

      @Kevin Bonavia
      “… I really believe the Age Exchange (not Age Concern, which is a different and not locally-based charity) library can be a success …”

      My mistake, Councillor. Age Exchange, of course.

      But Age Exchange for not much longer. Following a half-million-pounds refit funded by donors, Age Exchange, with Lewisham Council blessing, is to be reborn as Blackheath Community Centre (catering this time round for all ages and with the hived-off mini public library now rehoused on the lower ground floor) by autumn 2012.

  3. Gina Raggett

    The permanent library will be double the size, open on Saturdays again and facing the centre of the Village. Whilst it will not be run by the Lewisham Libraries Service, it will be connected to the borough’s book stock meaning it will be possible to order books on a 24 hour service.”

    Kevin: if you are to be believed, the permanent library will not remotely resemble the plans previously published and recently given the go-ahead by Greenwich council. These plans show a cramped basement space – basically a corridor – with no natural daylight and not facing anything except brick walls and a staircase, with a miserly stock 7,000 books. If the plans have been revised, it would be good to be able to see them.

    I must also take issue with the promise of a 24-hour book ordering facility. The Library Service has made it clear this is not, never has been and never will be possible. Three to 5 days is the norm and will remain so. Why make claims for AE which you must know can never be met?

    You say “Maybe time will tell if these were the wrong choices”, The people who made the 92,000 visits to the Village library know only too well you made the wrong choices. You chose to cut a front-line service and sack librarians rather than consider the dozens of alternative money-saving options put forward by campaigners across the Borough. There are no excuses.

    • Kevin Bonavia


      I am not aware of the plans being changed. The space allocated for library usage will be much greater than the present temporary space and will be on two floors, ground and basement. By facing the Village, I mean that it will be more visible and accessible from the main thoroughfare.

      On book ordering I had understood it could be done within 24 hours – I will check this at the meeting on 14 December (see above).

      It is not about making excuses; it’s explaining the rationale for taking choices. You believe it was the wrong one here. Fair enough. But the story doesn’t end with the closure of the old library site. There is a fledgeling new library which can be a success if we are serious about it.

  4. Pingback: Round up | Alan Gibbons’ Blog

  5. ThePirateKing


    When you say: “But I also appreciate we’re in uncharted water here, so its success really does depend on those providing and using the service – ie us residents – making it work.”

    I don’t think it’s very fair to already be putting the blame on users for not “making it work.”

    Please keep in mind that Lewisham Council have taken away something that people wanted (the old library) and replaced it with something that they clearly don’t want – at least no where near as much.

    The council took the library away; blaming users / residents for not using something they didn’t ask for and don’t want is not a very powerful argument in the council’s defence.

  6. Kevin Bonavia


    Of course it wouldn’t be fair to blame users for not making the library work. It’s just that we (and that includes the Council and us ward councillors) need to encourage residents to use it more.

    From speaking to residents, what most people want is a proper public library in the heart of Blackheath however it might be provided. As you’d rightly assume, I am strongly against how and why central government has cut local councils’ budgets so drastically, but that doesn’t take away councils’ responsibilities to do what they can within much tighter constraints.

    In all 5 areas in Lewisham where the old library has gone, work is going on to make sure there is still a proper library service. We are now starting to get operational evidence which should help improve that service: there is still a lot to do, not least in Blackheath, to get to the level that most of us want, and I think it is doable.

    • It’s not a proper library service. You have sold and then farmed off what was our library to a local organisation. You should have found a better solution to this. It’s nowhere near good enough, as the figures demonstrate.

      • Anonymous

        Well put, BB.

        Kevin – one of the groups that has lost out in particular (of which I am one) are parents with pre-school children who used to attend the regular story times / reading sessions at a venue right in the heart of the village.

        I hope that the new arrangement does work. Or at least work better, but it’s really a bandaid where there is a missing limb.

  7. Gill

    Here are a few problems I’ve experienced recently: (1) the new online library catalogue has glitches, which meant I was unable to renew a book online; (2) I went in person to the community library, the volunteer scanned the barcode in the book and date stamped the book with a new due date; (3) checking the online catalogue from home later that day, the due date shown was still the old one, so I had to email Lewisham Libraries to ask for help — fortunately they were able to renew the book for me. The two main problems seem to be (1) glitches with the online catalogue, and (2) the ability of the Blackheath community library to renew books. Prior to this, I’d tried to order a book via the community library, but the volunteer was using the online catalogue which wasn’t working properly, so I ended up going to Manor House Library to order the book — they seemed to have access to a different (maybe ‘internal’) catalogue, and completed the order very quickly.

  8. brian

    I head a group in Barnet formed to try to take over our local library. Very pleased to hear ideas and opinions.
    The space is only 20 feet x 15 feet. It has been unloved,, and unmarketed by the council for many years. We say: let us run it rent and expenses free (c£30kpa) , remove the expensive computer system, give us a v.small budget to bring in a part time professional to work with volunteers, give us a flow of new books … and leave us alone. We will bring in footfall by community activity and helping many young families who need more activities here.

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