Camden Public Libraries Users Group
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Camden Public Libraries Users Group was formed early in 1998 in response to the threats to Camden's library Service. Our aims are to reverse the long-term decline of the borough's libraries and to help ensure the best possible library provision for the people of Camden

Contact:
cplug
@librarylondon.org

Branch Libraries and Users/Friends Groups
Belsize Park
Camden Town
Chalk Farm
Heath
Highgate
Holborn
Kentish Town
Kilburn
Regents Park
St Pancras

Swiss Cottage
West Hampstead

Photograph from the book LIBRARY: THE DRAMA WITHIN
by Diane Asseo Griliches, Univ. of New Mexico Press 1996
With kind permission

© Clair Drew and CPLUG 2000

Camden Library Information:
all libraries

all mobile library stops

 

 

 

 

Libraries Issues:

Computers: Do you feel books are being squeezed out by banks of computers at your local branch?

Book Stock: The Camden Library Service expenditure on books has for many years been below the average for inner London. CPLUG has been campaigning for a reversal of this disastrous policy for some time and will continue to do so until common sense prevails.

'Out with the old, in with the new' is not necessarily a bad policy but there is a danger that much loved classics will be discarded. Have you noticed the loss of what you might consider to be a basic text?

Camden Local Studies & Archives Centre:
http://www.camden.gov.uk/localstudies

The CPLUG AGM took place on
2nd July 2010 at Belsize Library. Officers elected for the following year were:

Chair - Alan Templeton
Vice Chair - Nigel Steward
Hon. Secretary - Honora Morrissey
Hon. Treasurer - Nigel Steward
See the latest available performance charts for your library:

Belsize Park | Camden Town
Chalk Farm | Heath | Highgate
Holborn | Kentish Town | Kilburn
Queens Crescent | Regents Park
St Pancras | Swiss Cottage
West Hampstead

Audit Commission Report

Building Better Library Services
(Click link to go to site)
Essential reading!

CPLUG Seminar
"Do Public Libraries Have A Future?"

now online

 
Camden's Library Budget Cuts - 24th Novemeber 2010
Camden has published its medium term financial strategy. This will be presented to a joint scrutiny committee meeting on 30th November. Here is its link:

The specific proposals for the libraries are:

Libraries Proposal
Reduce the range and scope of library services, including closure and/or withdrawal of direct provision from a number of libraries and the close mobile library service.

Savings
2011/12: £0 million
2012/13: £1.200 million
2013/14: £1.600 million

Brief description, impact and risk
There are currently 13 council run libraries as well as a mobile library in Camden. Camden currently has the second highest number of libraries per square mile and is the third highest in terms of revenue costs per 1,000 head of population. This provides scope to reduce the overall number of libraries, while still ensuring that residents are within a reasonable distance of good quality library services. To achieve these savings officers will consult with residents on options that will include closure of some libraries and reduction in operating costs.

Residents will be consulted early in 2011 on the future of libraries with a view to identifying savings from direct service provision for implementation during the 2011/12 financial year.

The closure of libraries is likely to meet with opposition from existing users who value the service highly. Twenty four per cent of Camden residents are regular library customers while approximately half the population uses libraries less frequently. Among the groups most affected by the change will be elderly and disabled customers and younger children who may find it more difficult to use an alternative library located elsewhere, if some libraries close. Officers will work to ensure that the most vulnerable people are redirected to alternative library provision.

Cabinet are asked to agree to the closure of the mobile library. Closure of the mobile library is likely to meet with opposition from service users, though this is mitigated by the availability of alternative library provision nearby and the low level of use of the service which currently has 250 regular customers. The customer base includes a high proportion of children and elderly users and they will be redirected to alternative provision.

Further engagement and consultation will be needed to identify additional savings to be achieved from the remaining libraries over a three year period.

An initial equality impact screening has been undertaken that has indicated that a full equality impact assessment is necessary. This will be carried out after the consultation is complete and will inform the final decision.

AT Nov 2010

 
Camden Culture & Environment Scrutiny Committee

It is the Culture & Environment Scrutiny Committee which provides backbench Councillors with a little power over the operations of Camdens Library Service. It enables these Members to ensure that the Service adequately serves the needs of each of Camdens communities. The members of the committee are:

Council Member Party Ward Email Address
Sean Birch (Chair) Labour Gospel Oak Sean.Birch@camden.gov.uk
Knight, Chris Conservative Hampstead Town chris.knight@camden.gov.uk
Robinson, Roger Labour St Pancras & Somers Tn roger.robinson@camden.gov.uk
Roberts, Kirsty Conservative Hampstead Town kirsty.roberts@camden.gov.uk
Chung, Linda Liberal Dem Hampstead Town linda.chung@camden.gov.uk
Revah, Larraine Labour Gospel Oak Larraine.Revah@camden.gov.uk
Eslamdoust, Maryam Labour Kilburn Maryam.Eslamdoust@camden.gov.uk
Katz, Mike Labour Kilburn Mike.Katz@camden.gov.uk
Rea, Flick Liberal Dem Fortune Green flick.rea@camden.gov.uk
Khatoon, Samata Labour St Pancras & Somers Tn Samata.Khatoon@camden.gov.uk

Committee Meeting Dates

18.10.2010
22.11.2010
17.01.2011
30.03.2011
20.04.2011

AT July 2010

 

Whos in Charge?

The 6th May 2010 Local Elections produced a change in control of Camden Council. The Camden Labour Party, which was forced out of power in 2006, doubled its number of Council seats and regained control. The partys overall majority is now substantial and it is in a position to push through any policy it wishes.

The new Council will be faced with daunting budget problems for the next few years and many Council services will have to be cut back. Historically, the Camden Labour group has been rather unsympathetic to its public libraries. It was the party that tried to force widespread library closures onto the borough in 1998/99 but has, over recent years, adopted a neutral approach to its Library Service neither enthusiastically supportive nor overtly antagonistic. It is to be hoped that the battles of 1998/99 do not have to be refought.

Tulip Siddiq has been appointed the new Camden Executive Member for Culture and is, therefore, the person in charge of the borough's libraries.

A large proportion of Council Members are new to their wards, although some may have represented other wards in the past.

2010 Camden Local Election Results
Party
Seats Prior to May 2010
Seats Gained/Lost
(+/-)

Seats after
2010
Election

Labour
15
+15
30
Liberal Democrat
20
-7
13
Conservative
12
-2
10
Green
3
-2
1
Others
1
-1
0

AT May 2010

 

PERFORMANCE CHANGES CAUSED BY INCREASES IN CAMDEN LIBRARIES OPENING HOURS


CPLUGs Concerns
The suggested reason for increasing Camdens library opening hours was that it would enable more people to visit the libraries. CPLUG did not disagree with this assumption and attempted to ensure that the available resources were allocated where they would do the most good, rather than where was most bureaucratically convenient. This value for money argument went unheeded.

One of CPLUGs major concerns was the effect that a large allocation of resources to the Swiss Cottage Library (library no. 3 in map below) would have on the surrounding smaller libraries. In the recent past, this library has benefited when other libraries have not. Thus, the public increasingly has tended to use Swiss Cottage in place of the local libraries. It is to be expected that this cannibalisation of the user pool will lead to a continually reinforced downward spiral for the small libraries and is a recipe for eventual library closures - very bad news for those who have difficulty travelling. It is also bad for community cohesion and for the environment.

It is tempting to assume that the cost of implementing the opening hours changes is simply proportional to the change in those hours. However, the size of the library has a marked affect on the cost. Thus, the 14.5% (8 hours) increase in opening hours at Swiss Cottage almost certainly cost more than the 26.8% (11 hours) at Kilburn. There is little doubt that all other Camden libraries were not considered to be worthy of a similar investment and some appear to have been written off, as beyond help. To some extent, this appearance is (possibly) misleading and is the result of the simplistic method of resource allocation.

There seems to have been an attempt to take into account past increases in opening hours for some libraries by giving them a below average allocation i.e. Heath (+1 hour, 2.1%) and West Hampstead (+1 hour, 2.1%), where Sunday opening has been introduced. However, this even handed approach did not extend to Swiss Cottage. It is obvious that, from the outset, it was intended that this library would get the lions share of the money available.

The other favoured library in the allocation of additional opening hours was Kilburn. This librarys catchment area covers a generally deprived area. So a generous increase in resources could probably be justified on community needs grounds. However, this argument applies to several other areas in Camden where little was allocated. The conclusion has to be drawn that community need was not considered relevant or was of only small importance compared to the smooth operation of the Library Service itself.

Improvements in Library Performance Resulting from Increases in Opening Hours
CPLUG has made one previous attempt to isolate from the Camden Libraries performance figures the affect of increases in opening hours. This was based on quarterly comparisons. It was found that random, short-term volatility (possibly due to small, local population changes) made this impossible to carry out with any acceptable degree of precision. Claims by the Council based on this method should therefore be discounted. The averaging effect of yearly comparisons make this a more reliable method and is the basis for this analysis.

Camden Council claims that: In 2009, both Library Visits and Issues were 6% higher than in 2008; Computer Use (Hours) were up by 16% and Computer Use (Sessions) were up by 15%. This appears to be the case for Visits and Computer Use, but understates the improvement for Issues by almost a factor of two (see table below). One reason for this discrepancy is that the Camden figures include data for the Home Library Service and the Mobile Library. Whilst both services are of great value to the borough, they have not been subject to the changes in opening hours that are the concern of this analysis.

The Library Services preferred measure for judging performance is the number of visits to libraries. The concentration on this figure has enabled the Service to downgrade the collapse in borrowing, which has occurred in the past two decades, to a minor mishap. This judgement is not shared by library users. Camdens own survey has shown that 82% of library users use its libraries to borrow items, usually books.

So, by the Camden preferred measure, the increases in opening hours have generated a worthwhile, approximately pro-rata borough improvement. This outcome was just what was expected. What was not predicted were the large improvements in Issues and Computer Usage figures. The implication of this novel situation is that people are spending more time in the libraries. They are not as rushed as they previously were. This may well be partly due to the additional opening hours, but may also be caused by them simply being unemployed and having nowhere else to go.

It is accepted that unemployment is a lagging indicator in a recession. Therefore, for a recession starting towards the latter half of 2008, unemployment would be expected to rise significantly in 2009. This fits fairly well with actual unemployment data and can be expected to have generated a significant change in overall library user behaviour throughout 2009. Unemployment is a far more potent driver of attitude change than a few extra opening hours at the local library. When the 2009 CIPFA Actuals data is published, this theory can be tested as, if it is correct, most Library Services should show increases in book issues (CDs & DVDs cost money to borrow and are less likely to be on the must get list of the unemployed).

For whatever reason(s), the comparison of the 2008 figures with those for 2009 shows a good improvement at the borough level. CPLUG never doubted that there would be such an improvement. It is an elementary retailing strategy to stay open longer, if you want to sell more. CPLUG was much more concerned by what may result at a community level were there going to be losers as well as winners at this level. The table below breaks down the borough total to individual library performances. This is the data which is of importance to the various communities within Camden.

Library
Jan Dec 2008
Jan Dec 2009
% Opening Hours
Change
(actual hours)
2008 / 2009 Change %
  Issues Visitors Computer
Hours
Issues Visitors Computer
Hours
Issues Visitors Computer
Hours
Highgate 26639 74930 9967 27827 74144 11012 6.25 (+2hrs) 4.46 -1.05 10.48
Queens Crs 444.7 179813 24642 47185 175476 31057 6.1 (+3hrs) 6.18 -2.41 26.03
Regents Pk 19037 66726 8976 21248 69065 9880 6.25 (+2hrs) 11.62 3.46 10.07
Swiss Cott. 272534 460420 71165 278387 512735 81812 14.5 (+8hrs) 2.15 11.36 14.96
Belsize 21072 45113 3424 22343 45284 3750 4.1 (+1hr) 6.03 0.34 9.52
Heath 60969 101779 6495 64071 100828 6716 2.1 (+1hrs) 5.09 -0.93 3.40
Kilburn 50909 203049 38458 59740 236950 45868 26.8 (+11hrs) 17.35
16.70 19.27
Chalk Farm 25282 59057 2661 27953 62188 2777 4.1 (+1hr) 10.56 5.30 4.36
Kentish Tn. 104123 227042 20276 107138 233494 22061 6.1 (+3hrs) 2.90 2.84 6.20
Holborn 93439 216310 28856 97479 224377 31341 6.1 (+3hrs) 4.32 3.73 8.80
Camden Tn 56505 161824 20216 60454 169116 24589 6.1 (+3hrs) 6.99 4.51 21.63
St Pancras 101442 211367 21376 108770 224828 25401 6.1 (+3hrs) 7.22 6.37 18.83
W.Hampstd 68170 89971 11785 73674 88569 12124 2.1 (+1hrs) 8.07 -1.56 2.88
Total 900565.7 2097401 268297 996269 2222421 310550   10.63 5.96 15.75

One immediately obvious local deviation from the overall borough picture is the fall in the number of visits to Highgate (map number 6), Heath (map number 5), Queens Crescent (map number 7) and West Hampstead (map number 1) Libraries. In addition, Belsize Library (map number 4) only just avoided a reduction in the number of visits. This is exactly the situation that CPLUG had warned was likely to be generated by the opening hours allocations.

A puzzling aspect of the loser list is the inclusion of Highgate Library on it. This was considered by CPLUG to be a little too far from Swiss Cottage to be very affected by that librarys overly generous treatment. However, there is a bus service which passes both libraries, providing very easy travel between them. This was discounted by CPLUG because of its low frequency.

A second interesting aspect of the loser list is the exclusion of the Chalk Farm Library (map number 9) from it. Far from being crushed by the nearby Swiss Cottage juggernaut, it is one of the two libraries (the other library is St Pancras) which have delivered a greater percentage increase in visitor numbers than the percentage increase in opening hours. Proportionally, the investment in these libraries has produced greater returns than the other libraries and they would probably have benefited from a greater share of the total resources. The fact that these libraries were not obvious candidates for above average improvement is a vindication of the CPLUG proposals for a more practical, lower risk method of investing the available resources.

The CPLUG suggestion was that the increase in opening hours should take place in two stages. During the first stage, all libraries would be given a similar number of extra hours, with the total stage investment taking a third to a half of that available. At the end of a given period, the performance of the libraries would be assessed and the remaining money be invested to provide the best return for the public. This very simple, pragmatic approach was rejected, just as the warnings were.

It has been suggested that the primary cause of increases in Issues from Camden libraries in 2009 may have actually been increasing unemployment rather than changes in opening hours. If this were the case, any improvement in the Swiss Cottage Issues figure would be significantly less than those for the smaller libraries. This is due to people who normally travel to the library to make use of its greater stock levels no longer being able to afford to do so. The unemployed are generally less mobile. This does seem to have been the case, although Swiss Cottage Computer Use should also show similar underperformance and does not. Perhaps Computer Use at Swiss Cottage is more affected by the unemployed trying to upgrade their skills.

The West Hampstead Library performance seems to exhibit an extreme version of the schizophrenic reaction to the changes. Whilst it did suffer from a predicted drop in visitors (only Queens Crescent had a worse result), it also produced the fourth highest increase in Issues. The unemployment argument would not completely explain the anomaly. There has to be another factor involved - perhaps improved stock levels or better presentation of the stock i.e. better management.

There has been a suggestion from Flick Rea that the Camden libraries book purchases have increased. This has happened occasionally in the past and it is usual for the increase to be insufficient to stop the total book stock decreasing further. Perhaps this time is different. If it is, then the outcomes of the opening hours changes will have been obscured somewhat. The same observation can be made with respect to any changes to public access computer provision.

Conclusions
The decision to provide a general increase in library opening hours was quite logical, but needed some courage to carry through. It can now be presented as a successful initiative. However, this success could have been far greater and not qualified by damage to several small libraries. It is unfortunate that it is unlikely that resources will be available in the near future for a second wave of additional opening hours or similar improvement. Therefore, the lessons learnt from this particular exercise will probably have been forgotten, when it again becomes possible to consider genuine improvements to Camdens libraries.

It is easy to be critical of the unheeding attitude of Camden Library management in the way that (often) good ideas are presented and implemented. To a certain extent this management is struggling to come to terms with changing attitudes in local government. Whilst it has learnt the new vocabulary, it has yet to fully understand and accept the concepts. The theoretical answer to a management wedded to top down methods is better scrutiny, but that is just another problem.

Unlike the previous CPLUG attempt to interpret quarterly data, it has proved possible to draw some reliable conclusions from the yearly data presented here. However, one year is a short time in the life of a library service and the opening hours changes are just one of a long list of changes. It is the cumulative effect of these which dictates the success or otherwise of the service. For many years, CPLUG has been charting the long-term trends within each of Camdens libraries. There are too many charts (43) to reproduce them in a small report but links to them are given in the appendix. Inspection of these charts reveals that the opening hours changes have moved the long-term trend curves by a very small amount (both up and down). Only if the performance changes experienced so far are maintained into the future will there be a significant movement. If this does happen, the charts suggest that the positive effects will have wound the clock back two or three years in the fortunate libraries. The negative effects have probably simply brought forward what was going occur anyway in about the same timescale. So far, there has been no indication of a Hawthorne Effect. That probably needs longer than a year to appear and unemployment effects will almost certainly swamp it.

Appendix
Charts giving long term performance curves for each of Camdens libraries can be found at:

Belsize: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/bpperf.htm
Camden Town: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/ctperf.htm
Chalk farm: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/cfperf.htm
Heath: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/heperf.htm
Highgate: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/hgperf.htm
Holborn: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/hoperf.htm
Kentish Town: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/ktperf.htm
Kilburn: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/kiperf.htm
Queens Crescent: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/qcperf.htm
Regents Park: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/rpperf.htm
St Pancras: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/stpperf.htm
Swiss Cottage: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/scperf.htm
West Hampstead: http://www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden/whperf.htm

Alan Templeton
for CPLUG
February 2010

 

Camden Public Libraries Opening Hours

On 19th January 2009, the opening hours of Camden's libraries were increased. Overall, the increase was 7.6%. However, this was not uniformally allocated across the borough and the increase for individual libraries varied from 2.1% to 26.8%. The effect on each library is detailed below.

Library
Current hours

Proposed
revision

Current total
hours open
per week

New total
hours open
per week
Increase in
number of
hours open
per week
% increase in hours open per week
Swiss Cottage Mon 10-7
Tue 10-6
Wed 10-6
Thurs 10-8
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Sun 11-4
Mon 10-8 Tue 10-8 Wed 10-8 Thu 10-8
Fri 10-8
Sat 10 - 5
Sun 11-5
55
63
8
14.5%
Kentish Town Mon 10-7
Tue 10-6
Wed 10-6
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
49
52
3
6.1%
Holborn Mon 10-7
Tue 10-6
Wed 10-6
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
49
52
3
6.1%
Kilburn Library Centre1 Mon 10-8
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-6
Thurs closed
Fri 10-5
Sat 10-5
Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
41
52
11
26.8%
St Pancras (Camden Town Hall) Mon 10-7
Tue 10-6
Wed 10-6
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
49
52
3
6.1
Queens Crescent Mon 10-7
Tue 10-6
Wed 10-6
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
49
52
3
6.1%
Camden Town (Crowndale Centre) Mon 10-7
Tue 10-6
Wed 10-6
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Mon 10-7 Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Thu 10-7
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
49
52
3
6.1%
Heath Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Thu 10-8
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Sun 11-4
Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Thu 10-8
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
Sun 11-4
48
49
1
2.1%
West Hampstead Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Thu 10- 8
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Sun 11-4
Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Thurs 10-8
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
Sun 11-4
48
49
1
2.1%
Highgate Tue 10-6
Wed 10-6
Thur 10-7
Sat 10-5
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Thu 10-7
Sat 10-5
32
34
2
6.25%
Regents Park Tue 10-6
Wed 10-6
Thur 10 - 7
Sat 105
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Thur 10-7
Sat 10-5
32
34
2
6.25%
Belsize Tue 10 7
Wed 106
Sat 10-5
Tue 10-7
Wed 10-7
Sat 10-5
24
25
1
4.1%
Chalk Farm Mon 10-7
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-5
Mon 10-7
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
24
25
1
4.1%
Camden Local Studies & Archives Centre Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Wed closed
Thur 10-7
Fri 10-6
Sat 10-1, 2-5
Mon 10-7
Tue 10-7
Wed closed
Thur 10-7
Fri 10-7
Sat 10-5
40
43
3
7.5%
Total    
589
634
45
7.6%

AT Feb 09

 

CPLUGs TENTH ANNIVERSARY REVIEW, 2008

This year will mark thCe tenth birthday of CPLUG. It is not clear what the actual date of birth is, as it was a rolling event, driven by mounting opposition to Camdens ill thought-out library closure policy. That we still have the same number of public libraries in Camden as ten years ago is a testament to CPLUGs effectiveness and proves that, however firm a grip a political party has on a Council, that group should beware of trying to destroy that which the public values highly.

Thus, CPLUG initially achieved great success and, if judged by the number of public libraries in the borough, it continues to have success. However, a Library Service is not only made up of buildings. A library building gains its name not from any design attribute but from its contents. The contents define the building and, if the contents are removed, the building ceases to be a library.

Since its inception, CPLUG has been concerned by the low priority placed on the boroughs library book stock. It has made the point again and again that the public considers that book lending is the principal activity of a library service. If the service does not meet this expectation, it will be considered to have failed. This has had no affect on the long-term policy of the Camden Library Service and book stock degradation has resulted in a continuous fall in library issues (charted in CPLUG web pages at www.librarylondon.org/localgroups/camden ).

The Office of National Statistics has stated that a quarter of UK adults did not read a book in 2007 and that a half of males between 16 & 24 years of age did not read one. Other surveys have shown that the population of the country is becoming less and less literate and dangerously innumerate.

Recognising the gravity of the situation, the Government campaign, the National Year of Reading, now aims to persuade reluctant readers, particular males, to start reading. Traditionally, the public library services would be in the forefront of such an initiative. However, because of the reduced availability of books, there is some doubt that Camdens Library Service will able to contribute to this campaign in an effective way.

Of course, the suggestion that Camden is largely uninterested in running a traditional library service has been denied as often as it has been made. Nevertheless, there is a large amount of evidence to show that the suggestion is valid. As an illustration, some relevant CIPFA 31/03/06 Actual figures are:

 
Books Issued / 1000 Population
Total Book-stock /1000 Population
Annual Additions / 1000 Population
Camden
3,564
1,874
216
Inner London
4,497
1,931
222
Greater London
5,110
1,895
233
UK
5,366
1,742
204

Thus, in both quantity and quality (annual additions being taken as a measure of quality), Camdens book stock is well below average when compared with its London peers. If this situation occurred in one year only, it would be unfortunate. However, it is the usual situation and, because the effects are cumulative, it is leading towards disaster. The magnitude of this debilitating cumulative effect is shown in the following table for the period 1999/2006.

TOTAL BOOK STOCK PER 1000 POPULATION (CIPFA data)
31st March 1999
31st March 2006
% Change
Camden
3,003
1,874
-38
Inner London
2,595
1,931
-26
Greater London
2,664
1,895
-29
UK
2,081
1,742
-16

The 38% reduction in the number of library books available to a Camden resident between 1999 and 2006 has been caused by the removal of 142,795 books from the libraries and a rapid increase in the resident population. As a large proportion of the population increase was caused by an influx of foreign workers, failure to support the integration of these people into British culture can be added to the charge of failure to aid the fight against falling literacy in the indigenous population.

The policy of reducing the size of the book stock has a similar overall effect on the population as closing libraries and the magnitude of the stock reduction between 1999 & 2006 is equivalent to closing 3.5 1999 average libraries. What Camden failed to do openly in 1998, it has now succeeded in doing stealthily.

A decade ago, there was an immense amount of goodwill for Camdens Library Service. Now, there are complaints about that Service in the local newspapers much of the goodwill has been frittered away.

With central governments financial squeeze on Londons boroughs, it may be expected that the cause of the poor book stock support has been a lack of money in the Camden Library Budget. This is not the case, as can be seen from the tables below.

TOTAL REVENUE EXPENDITURE PER 1000 POPULATION (CIPFA data)
 
2005/06 Actuals £
2006/07 Estimates £
Camden
34,916
34,801
Inner London
28,586
29,303
Greater London
28,586
25,893
UK
18,803
18,822

TOTAL REVENUE EXPENDITURE PER 1000 POPULATION (CIPFA Actuals data)
 
1998/99 (£)
2005/06 (£)
Change %
Camden
30,836
34,801
+12.9
Inner London
23,089
29,303
+26.9
Greater London
20,547
25,893
+26.0
UK
13,840
18,822
+36.0

Although Camdens funding has been slowly falling towards the average, its Library Service has been supplied with significantly above average levels of funding, but this situation has not been reflected in its second most important asset, its book stock (the library buildings are the most important asset, of course).

So, CPLUG has started checking how the taxpayers money is spent by the Service. There is no doubt that, in spite of protestations that the book stock was considered to be of great importance, Camden has traditionally spent proportionally less on this than its peers and the proportion has reduced further with time (see table below).

PERCENTAGE OF REVENUE EXPENDITURE SPENT ON BOOK STOCK
 
1998/99
2005/06
Camden
6.4
5.0
Inner London
8.9
6.2
Greater London
9.4
6.8
UK
11.1
9.0

As it is obvious that Camden places a low priority on providing books for its library users, to what does it give a high priority? Compared to the UK as a whole, Camden spends noticeably more on direct employee costs and on the purchase of support services (see table below). If both of these aberrations were reduced to the national average, the damage to the book stock would begin to be repaired. As it will take many years to fully repair the Camden book stock, this requires a real commitment to the provision of good library services in the borough and a willingness to make hard decisions. In fact, it requires good management.

CAMDEN LIBRARIES REVENUE EXPENDITURE (CIPFA data)
Political Regime Change
????????
Type of Expenditure
2005/05 Estimates
2005/06 Actuals
2006/07 Estimates
Camden
National
Camden
National
Camden
National
Employees
58.11
55
57.31
55.06
57.84
55.92
Premises
9.40
10
9.24
11.12
10.45
10.96
Books
5.00
9
5.05
8.28
4.62
7.89
Other Material
2.62
4
7.70
3.56
2.54
3.87
Support Services
20.75
10
19.99
10.4
20.13
10.27
Other
4.13
12
5.76
11.56
4.41
11.09

NOTES

1. In order to make it possible to compare regions of different sizes and to compare one year with another, CIPFA has found it necessary to normalize the data by dividing the relevant number by the size of the population for that area. This results in the understating of the difference between Camden and other areas, as Camden has a very high commuter workforce. Camden has the responsibility of providing library services for these people, as well as its own residents. The Camden book stock is thus in a worse state than has been shown.

2. The size of the book stock of an average 1999 Camden library (40,457) was calculated by dividing the borough book stock by the total number of service points (14). The service points total includes the mobile library, but also the large Swiss Cottage Central Library.

3. All published statistics present a historic picture of the subject under consideration. So, it is not possible to use them to give an accurate, up-to-date analysis of the state of Camdens Library Service. Nevertheless, it is possible to make an estimate. Assuming that the book stock attrition has continued unabated (observation indicates that it has), we must conclude that the reduction of the book stock since 1999 is now over 180,000 books equivalent to 4.5 average 1999 libraries.

4. The government is shortly to introduce a national public library performance requirement (NI9) - to meet a minimum limit for the number of adults entering the libraries. Thus, central government is suggesting that the countrys Library Services could ignore book lending activities and concentrate on other things a suggestion reinforced by the reduction in Public Lending Rights funding. For a borough that has already run down its book stock, such as Camden, this could be the signal to give up completely. Some of the existing Library Standards requirements may be included in a voluntary Library Benchmarking operation seen by some as an exercise in toothless supervision.

5. The accepted authority on the nations vocabulary, The Oxford English Dictionary, defines a library as: A building, room, or set of rooms containing a collection of books for use of the public or of some particular portion of it, or of the members of some society or the like; a public institution or establishment charged with the care of a collection of books, and the duty of rendering the books accessible to those who require to use them.

"As good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book. Who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, God's Image; but he who destroys a good Book kills reason itself."

John Milton, "Areopagitica", 1644.

A.T. Feb 2008