Cllr Sonia Winifred, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Cultures, blogs about how Lambeth Labour are protecting our libraries…
As a former Lambeth librarian, the issue of library funding is close to my heart.
While all funding decisions must be seen in the context of the government’s 56% cut in funding to Lambeth, we recognise the concerns that have been raised by residents and councillors through the budget consultation. I am pleased to announce in response to the budget consultation, we will not taking the additional savings in libraries that were in the original proposals.
In the last few years we have worked on improving our library services in the backdrop of serious funding pressures and we have been hugely successful. Libraries bring so many benefits to the people of Lambeth.
We have, after all, kept open ten libraries in this borough. We have refurbished several of our libraries including Brixton, Streatham, Upper Norwood and Clapham. In the first three weeks of the reopening of the West Norwood library last year, there were 12,917 items issued and 1,333 new people registered. We’ve improved our online offer and equipment. For example, we introduced e-books and ensured all our PCs are accessible to those who are visually impaired.
Our libraries host a series of author events. Since April 2018 there have been 63 adult authors visits including Ben Okri, Dorothy Koomson and Afua Hirsh. Our most successful event is the Lambeth Heritage Festival. We are also first library service in UK in which all libraries delivered Fun Palaces – weekends where local people explore and experience new things in the arts, science, digital world and leisure. Our libraries celebrate our diverse communities. Our Black History Month last year attracted 2,050 attendees to our events and in partnership with the Polish and Portuguese embassies, we hosted famous Polish writers and academics, writing and poetry competitions, and Portugal Day at Tate South Lambeth Library.
Our libraries help people improve their skills. Our libraries host 12 ESOL (English as a Second Language) classes a week with 8,700 attendees each year and we have IT support sessions. We’ve invested in the skills of our workforce. Staff are trained in supporting people with autism and dementia, supporting people to get online, and offering advice about energy saving, money and universal credit. Our libraries help children develop their skills. We have 18 under 5 story time sessions a week with over 28,000 children attending per year. We’ve improved the take up for children joining our summer reading challenge.
Our libraries connect people. Over 203 people a month regularly taking part in library reading groups and our libraries host intergenerational knitting and World War Two memory sessions. Our libraries help vulnerable people. Last summer, we helped children and families at risk of going hungry over the school holidays with a pilot funded by the Mayor of London and in partnership with Brixton Soup Kitchen. Our library service goes beyond the buildings. Our home library service for those who are housebound boasted a 99% very satisfied rate. And our prison library service has increased in use with this work being recognised as outstanding by the Butler Trust.
I look forward to the improvements in our libraries going forward including a state of the art Archives and more events around our borough.