At a recent meeting of the library officer / member joint working
group three possible strategies were outlined for the future of
Camden's Library Service. This document examines those strategies
from the viewpoint of the users and potential users of the Service.
2. The Present Situation
There is almost universal agreement that the Camden library Service
is in need of a clearly stated strategy for delivering a high quality
service in the future. Unfortunately, the reduction in Camden's rate
support grant has introduced an element of crisis management into what
should have been a quiet, reasoned consideration of all available options.
It is possible to take the attitude that the borough's funding problem
is the only one of relevance and that unadulterated cost reduction is
the sole strategy worthy of discussion. To formulate plans for the future
of Camden's libraries based on such a narrow premise will inevitably add
to the damage already inflicted on the Service by a generation of neglect.
A less defeatist and more responsible approach to planning the way
forward is to accept that there are financial constraints and to seek
to maximize what can be achieved with the core service. To do this, one
has to have an accurate picture of the existing Service, obtainable from
the Library Service statistics provided for Council members.
In the present climate of financial stringency, the bottom line unit cost
of service delivery is a vitally important criterion for judging how well
each library is performing. From the figures provided in the 3 year
comparative statistics, it is quite obvious that the cost per stock issue
is generally lower for the small local libraries than for the three large
libraries and this is also the case for the cost per visitor. Further, if
the retailing criterion of sales per square metre (issues or visitors per
square metre for libraries) is applied, the small libraries are found to be
far better performers. This is in spite of the fact that stock availability
(magnitude of stock x opening hours) is considerably greater for the large
libraries. Thus if the 3 year statistics are considered sufficient for
formulating policy, one would expect any suggested future strategy to
concentrate on nurturing the small libraries (possibly what has been
dismissed as fiddling around with what we already have). However, nobody
would suggest that Swiss Cottage Library should be closed due to poor
performance, although it is apparently far less efficient than most of the
favoured closure candidates(Highgate, Queens Crescent, Regents Park)
and of similar performance to Belsize.
In reality, the cost data provided in the 3 year comparative statistics
is too simplistic to draw any accurate conclusion as to the comparative
cost efficiency of Camden's libraries. There is certainly little to support
any of the three options proposed.
For the members of the Leisure Committee to be asked to make decisions
based on the data provided is to put them in an impossible position.
The members of the committee have to perform similar duties to company
directors and should be provided with the same tools to carry out those
duties. In this case, therequired tool is a properly researched business
plan for each option.
A frequent starting point in the compilation of a business plan is the
market research e.g. what does the customer really want, how is the
market segmented and what is the size of each segment? Whatever the
problems inherent in the actual survey, the Mori telephone poll is a
recognisable effort to gather some of this information. The degree of
detail in the survey report from Mori will determine whether it is
possible to make use of the data in any meaningful way and great care
will be need to be exercised to avoid applying the data inappropriately.
In particular, borough wide data should not be applied to individual
local libraries unless the local demography exactly matches that of the
A local survey was carried out by the Friends of Kilburn Library at
approximately the same time as the Camden library Mori poll. The
results of both should be available at about the same time and the
comparison of the two sets of data should make interesting reading.
It is not necessary to wait for the results of these surveys to begin
the investigation of how the proposed changes to the Library Service
would affect the residents of Camden. The 1991 census can be considered
to be a giant market survey capable of accurately providing more than
enough data to give a general idea of the results of implementing the
It is a simple exercise to superimpose the Camden library sites onto
the population density map contained in the 1991 census report. Thus,
Map 1 of this report shows the position of all the public libraries
in Camden and bordering areas with respect to population density.
From this, it is possible to state that with one exception, the
present distribution of libraries is adequate for the purpose.
Contrary to public pronouncements by several Councilors, the one
area where residents are noticeably deprived of a library service
is not in the south of the borough but in the north, east of the
Finchley Road. The south of the borough is very well supplied with
libraries (thanks largely to the City of London and Islington) and,
considering that two of the libraries are large ones, it can be
concluded that there is an above average provision of library services
in the south of the borough. It is true that the south west corner of
the borough is not served by a library. However, the map clearly shows
that there are few residents in that area.
It is obvious that Council members worried about inequitable provision
of library services across the borough need to focus on the empty
quarter in the north of the borough where just under 10% of the
population live. To be fair to the library Service, the area is
difficult to serve efficiently. The possible methods of library
provision would be one large library or a mobile library. There
was once a large library in Arkwright Road but that has not operated
for many years. No mobile library service has been made available
to partly alleviate this lack of provision. Camden's mobile library
concentrates its service mainly in the south and east of the borough.
There are other libraries within Camden in addition to those run by
the Library Service and gaining public access to these other
facilities could materially affect the balance of service
provision across the borough. This low cost method of improving
the overall service has been recognised by Camden in policy LC 5
of the borough Unitary Development Plan. Assuming that the Library
Service aggressively pursues a policy of obtaining access for residents
to these private libraries, the possible distribution of facilities
across the borough would be as shown in Map 2 In which case, the library provision in the south of the borough
will have been transformed from above average to among the best in
the country. The rest of the borough would retain only its basic service.
These proposals are characterised by a total withdrawal of library
services from some northern areas of the borough in favour of
protecting some semblance of service elsewhere. The proposed Gospel
Oak library (not clearly defined) is almost certainly situated too
close to Kentish Town Library for any claim to be made that the
strategy was based on a policy of equal treatment for all residents
of the borough. Similarly, the proposed Kingsway Library (not clearly
defined) being situated close to numerous other libraries (mostly
in adjacent boroughs) gives the impression that it is intended to
perpetuate the above average supply of library facilities in the south.
Each of the options proposed by the Library Service are simply
variations on the discredited KPMG policy of withdrawal of services
from inconvenient parts of the borough. A policy which will transform
a situation where there is almost equal treatment of Camden's citizens
into one where there are two classes of resident. The favoured group
will receive a level of service at least as good as at present. The
second group, the library underclass, will either be totally deprived
of a service or will be able to obtain it only with difficulty. This
is in direct conflict with the Council's Strategic Policy SRE2
(Unitary Development Plan, June 1998) which states
ï¿œThe Council will promote equality of opportunity and access for all
to a range of facilities and servicesï¿œ
The proposed strategies are particularly unfortunate as they will
further deprive the most needy members of the newly designated second
class citizens. These needy people, the children, the mothers, the
old, the sick and the vulnerable, are far less mobile than average
and will therefore be affected more. Preliminary results from the
Kilburn survey indicate that this is the very group of people who
put the highest value on the library Service. That Library Service
appears to have substituted its own biblical version of Policy SRE2
ï¿œUnto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have
abundance: but from him that have not shall be taken away even
that which he hath.ï¿œ
Prepared by A. Templeton 28th December 1998.