Saturday, 23 April 2016

East Barnet Library - A valuable community resource destroyed

I am sure everyone is now aware that East Barnet is one of the four libraries that has been designated a Partnership library. This means that it will be run by volunteers with a target of opening just 15 hours a week.   I was there last Saturday afternoon and it looked like Barnet had already abandoned the library. Of the six computers on the ground floor, four were out of order. Two are in the children's area and two of the four adult computers. The children's computers are of course turned off because of the IT failure as there is still no filter system in place - the system isn't fixed no matter how often Conservative Councillors say it is. The other two computers had been out of action for three weeks but because of the much bigger IT failure, they had been given a low priority for repair. Several people tried to use the automated issuing machines but couldn't because of course the IT system isn't fixed and librarians were having to deal with individuals to check their membership records and update the system with data that has been lost.

Roll forward a week and today I have just paid another visit to the library. The four computers that were out of order last week are still out of order - the filter system on the children's computer still isn't working SEVEN WEEKS after the IT failure. What I also noticed was how empty the shelves are looking; many had bookends to hold half a shelf of books together, other shelves were completely empty. It just feels like Barnet have walked away. I always used to go to the stand where the new library books are displayed but it was very sparsely arranged. As I understand the situation, because of the massive exercise to repopulate the database with all the existing stock they have stopped or slowed down new book purchases. Either that, or as is looking increasingly obvious, Barnet council have made a clear decision to stop investing in East Barnet Library now it is going to be transferred to another organisation, whoever that may be.

Talking to someone last night they were saying not as many people use East Barnet library these days but frankly I'm not surprised if it is being run into the ground. Exactly the same thing happened before the Capita contract was let - the existing service was allowed to collapse so that Capita could come in and tell everyone what a wonderful job they have done to improve the service.

But what a great resource the library is for the local community. People reading newspapers, children reading books, people using the working computers, people borrowing books. As a small business owner I can't afford, nor have the space for, an A3 colour photocopier. But there is one at East Barnet Library which I often pop in to use.  Some Conservative Councillors measure a library's success simply by the number of books they lend but libraries are so much more than this.

What also upsets me is the lack of a visionary strategy for Barnet Council which could have seen libraries become community offices of the council. Barnet have commenced work on building a new 90,000 sqft council office in Colindale at a cost of £34 million. The parking will be very limited not just for the staff but for visitors to the offices so getting from East Barnet to Colindale will be a real problem. The library strategy identified 47,000 sqft of "spare" space across all 14 libraries, more than half of the total space being built at Colindale. Why couldn't the council have embraced a localised strategy with as many customer facing services co-located in libraries as possible and with a much smaller core service in the main building. Big savings on construction, less issues with parking as staff could park at the libraries, services accessible to local people in their local community. Decent technology means that staff can work in dispersed locations comparatively easily and it certainly would exemplify the council's "single point of contact" strategy but in person rather than on an automated telephone system.

Saving money on libraries only to spend it on new council offices is not what I, nor I suspect what most people, voted for. But then again when has this council worried about what local people think.


  1. East Barnet to Colindale:
    According to the TfL web site, it's about 55 minutes on three different buses.
    But when has Barnet council ever bothered about improving public transport?

  2. The lack of visionary strategy is exasperated when one considers the amount of council office space that was disposed of at The Burroughs in the direction of Middlesex University some 10 years ago. My recollection then was that it said the renting civic offices at NLBP was a much better economic plan than owning the space. Now, as you point out, we are spending £34 million to reverse that decision - presumably a large chunk of what was made from flogging off the buildings to the University. Joined up thinking?
    I'm also intrigued by your comment of judging the value of the library service by book issues alone. After such a catastrophic loss of data how can they make any decisions based on the statistics produced which would be best shelved in the fiction section of the library. Yet according to Mrs Angry's recent blog they are proceeding with massive changes to the service without stopping to analyse what went wrong. Truly the lunatics are running the asylum!

    1. What's the odds that when the new offices are ready they will sell them to a property company for a risible sum on the basis that, as a new build they cannot convert them to residential so they are worthless in the current market, calling it a good deal. And then lease back the offices at a hefty market rate because there is a dearth of office space now that they have allowed it all to be converted to residential!

  3. I used to go to a restaurant which offered an excellent menu choice of 8 starters, 10 mains and 5 desserts along with kids meals and special dishes to order. Now it has 2 starters, 3 mains and 1 dessert and no children's meals. Consequently the family doesn't eat there any longer. That's the equivalent to what is happening to the library 'service' - people simply don't go back if it is allowed to fester.