CUTS WEEK – Part One: Libraries

Photo: Transpontine

In the first of a new series on the effect of the public spending cuts, ELL takes a look at how library cuts will affect people along the line.

Library cuts are an issue which has touched a nerve with many of our readers since council’s budgets were slashed during the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. But do you know how these cuts are going to affect where you live?

Of our four boroughs only Tower Hamlets and Hackney have pledged to keep all their libraries open despite the budget cuts. Lewisham have confirmed the closure of five libraries and six of Croydon’s libraries are facing the chop.

The closures in Lewisham mean that some residents will be more than a mile-and-a-half away from their nearest library. In Croydon, should the proposed closures go ahead, some residents will find themselves over two and a half miles from their nearest library.


Click the photo above to show the full map of library closures across the four boroughs. Green pins show libraries remaining open, yellow pins are libraries at risk of closure, and red pins are libraries confirmed for closure.

Lewisham Council have blamed the closure of the libraries on “ideological cuts” imposed by the coalition government.

The closures will save the Council just under £1 million. Lewisham need to cut £60 million from their budget over the next three years.

The truth is, Lewisham haven’t been able to lavish the care and attention that their libraries have needed over the past decade, and the cost of bringing them up to scratch is prohibitive.

To repair the roof and electrical systems at Crofton Park would cost £200k, to make improvements at Grove Park would cost £230k and fix the leaking roof at Sydenham would cost £250k.

Also worth noting is the astronomical cost per opening hour for some libraries. Blackheath Village library works out at £73.12 per opening hour to run each year, compared to £1.29 for Manor Park. The bulk of Blackheath’s running costs are due to an expensive lease taken out in 2008 and due to run until 2013.

This means that although Blackheath Library is open half the number of hours of Central Lewisham library, and has only a quarter of its visitors, its running costs are only £5,000 less per year. This is largely down to an incredibly costly lease signed in 2008 and due to run until 2013, which may not even be possible to pass on to a third party.

Croydon Council have said that library closures are one of many options they are considering as a result of their budget cut. However Councillor Tim Godfrey suggested that he thinks all six libraries are likely to close.


Croydon Council have deferred the decision to close any libraries to allow for a longer consultation period. The council say that if a decision were made to change the current service it could result in a reduction in spending of £98k- 664k. The final decision has been delayed until the council’s July Cabinet meeting, because ‘Croydon is a listening council’.

Lewisham Council did offer a second proposal in which opening hours were cut across all libraries, but this was not taken any further. Despite receiving over 1000 signatures in opposition to library closures, Mayor Sir Steve Bullock has insisted that there is no alternative.

Interestingly, a questionnaire distributed to more than a thousand Lewisham residents showed that more than a quarter of respondants were in support of closures, ticking the box marked: “That’s OK, I don’t think we need as many libraries as we currently have”.


Click on the images above to show the most used words on Twitter in 2011 for the search term “library” in Lewisham and Croydon.

Tower Hamlets council, which has pledged to keep all its libraries open, has seen a huge uptake in library services within the borough since they were rebranded as Idea Stores nine years ago. Since 2002 the number of active members has increased by 45%, the number of issues by 16%, and the number of visitors by 233 per cent.

Hackney Council is keeping all eight of its libraries open, and is budgeting £8.1m in 2011/12 for its library and archives service. Hackney have focused on making savings from the back office rather than cutting front-line services, as seen in our other boroughs. The council has invested a lot of money in its library services over the past few years, including refurbishing Clapton Library and constructing the brand new Dalston C.L.R. James Library.

The borough is also home to Woodberry Down Library which has been staffed entirely by volunteers since it opened in 2007.


Graph showing the number of active users of libraries across three boroughs each year. Click to expand

Graph showing the number of visits to libraries across three boroughs each year. Click to expand

Lewisham Last year

  • 2 million visits
  • 1.15 million issues
  • 53,000 residents (20.4 per cent) borrowed a book
  • Population: 258,500

Croydon Last year

  • 2 million visits
  • 1.20 million issues
  • 80,675 residents (22.9 per cent) borrowed a book
  • Population: 352,292

Tower Hamlets last year

  • 2 million visits
  • 1.06 million issues
  • 43,352 residents (19.7 per cent) borrowed a book
  • Population: 215,300

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