Camden Public Libraries Users Group
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
from the book LIBRARY: THE DRAMA WITHIN
© Clair Drew and CPLUG 2000
Computers: Do you feel books are being squeezed out by banks of computers at your local branch?
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
Local Studies & Archives Centre:
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
Audit Commission Report
Better Library Services
|Camden's Library Budget Cuts - 24th Novemeber 2010|
has published its medium term financial strategy. This will be presented
to a joint scrutiny committee meeting on 30th November. Here is its
The specific proposals for the libraries are:
Brief description, impact and risk
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.
Culture & Environment
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:
Committee Meeting Dates
AT July 2010
Siddiq has been appointed the new Camden Executive Member for Culture
and is, therefore, the person in charge of the borough's libraries.
AT May 2010
PERFORMANCE CHANGES CAUSED BY INCREASES IN CAMDEN LIBRARIES OPENING HOURS
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
A.T. Feb 2008