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Southwark's libraries set to stay open following major review

Published Tuesday, 11 October 2011

All of Southwark Council's libraries are to remain open, a report recommends today.

Despite deep cuts in Government funding, results from a five-month long council review conclude that none of the borough's 12 libraries need close. Instead council bosses have identified £397,000 worth of savings, which are to be made between 2012 and 2014.

The report also highlights the great strides Southwark Council is taking to boost library provision in the borough with a state of the art £14.1million library set to open in Canada Water next month and new libraries planned for Camberwell and Grove Vale in East Dulwich next year. 

The report reflects how investment in extra libraries in Southwark is being matched by a modernisation of current libraries to include better use of technology and improved facilities. 

Southwark Council continues to buck the national trend with its successful library service. Last year it saw a 14% increase in library visitors (topping two million) compared to the year before, and the number of items issued across its libraries last year was 1.39m, an increase of 9% on the previous year. Where nationally these figures are decreasing, here in Southwark the figures are on the rise.  

The report recommends savings can be made through the greater use of volunteers, sharing library services with other boroughs and sharing space with other council departments.  

Other savings are expected to come from reducing opening hours at smaller less visited libraries, but ensuring the remaining hours focus on the busiest times and inviting the local community to bring forward proposals for community management in order to extend these hours. 

The recommendations are contained in a report to the council's cabinet which next week (18th October) will vote on how to secure the savings. 

Cllr Veronica Ward, cabinet member for culture, leisure, sport and the Olympics at Southwark Council, said: 

"Libraries are a vital part of the community and a key service for our residents. They support learning and opportunity, open doors to work, are about enjoyment, information finding, thinking and reading. In short, they help people realise their potential.

"This report shows a great way forward for the borough and unlike other authorities up and down the country, we are continuing to invest in our libraries. The phenomenal response we had from our library users during the consultation period showed just how dear libraries are to the hearts of our residents, and closing any would have been hugely regrettable. 

"By finding these savings, and exploring new ways of operating our libraries, we are extremely pleased to be able to keep them all open. This positive step forward, together with the opening of our flagship Canada Water library next month, truly is a cause for celebration."  

Cllr Peter John, leader of Southwark Council, added:

"Just a quick glance at our libraries tells its own story - we have an internationally recognised and award winning library in Peckham, a record-breaking, state of the art library in Borough, a soon to be open multi-million pound library in Canada Water, as well as two brand new libraries in the pipeline.  

This review shows how, despite central government cuts, we are leading the way when it comes to valuing and investing in our libraries. Whether it's savings generated from our use of technology, to record-breaking visitor numbers, or simply a drive to open up new libraries when around the country they are closing down, this shows how we are setting the example for other boroughs to follow."

Southwark's libraries review took place from June to October of this year and included surveys of library users, presentations at every library in the borough and discussions at all community councils. Over 5,500 people responded to the survey, and more than 300 people attended consultation meetings.

Background Information

The libraries earmarked for reduced hours are those which are used the least often in the borough, and which had the biggest support for this suggestion in the libraries consultation. 

Savings already made include the withdrawal of the mobile library service, and the home library service will run in its current form only until March 2013 unless an alternative and  no-cost service can be identified. 

The CIPFA actual statistics for 2009 / 10 (the figures above on visitor numbers and items borrowed are from 2010/11) show that Southwark has the 3rd highest book issues in Inner London; and the 4th highest for overall issues which include music, film and other media.  Southwark has the 6th highest level of visit to libraries in inner London.

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