Figures for Blackheath library seem to show a ten fold drop in loans compared to last year with only 572 loans recorded instead of the 5044 in 2010 when the library was still in council ownership.
The drop in borrowing can be seen across the borough. Grove Park library dropped by 81 per cent, with 722 loans in October this year in comparison to 3,764 in 2010, and New Cross People’s Library was down to 458 from 2,770.
All of these libraries were released from council ownership on May 28 this year due to budget cuts.
A computer recycling firm and social enterprise Eco now owns Grove Park, along with Sydenham and Crofton Park libraries. Blackheath Village Library has moved to local charity Age Exchange, and New Cross People’s Library is now run entirely by local volunteers.
Kathy Dunbar, 56, vice-chair of New Cross People’s Library, said that the low figures might in part, be due to technical difficulties with the checking-out system. At the moment, she explained, books that are checked out at New Cross are not automatically recorded on to Lewisham’s central library loans system, which means that any figures must be collated manually and that not all loans have been recorded.
This is set to change as Lewisham Council will be installing self-service machines in all of the community libraries which should help to regulate borrower figures in addition to allowing users to access books from other local libraries.
Dunbar also told EastLondonLines that the number of people using the library, whether or not they took books home, had been continually rising since the library re-opened fully in September, with a total of 6,102 visitors in November.
She said: “What you have to remember is that all five of these libraries were supposed to be closed, and right now all five of them are still open.”
Council-owned libraries have also been feeling the pinch, but the change in statistics is less extreme.
Lewisham Library, for example, is down to 19,963 from 22,025 last October whilst Catford Library saw a decrease from 10,197 loans in 2010 to 8,059 this October.
Lewisham Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Services, Chris Best, who released the figures, said: “There have been some initial difficulties with data collection from the community libraries, and the service overall has had a difficult year, completing a major staff reorganisation and the introduction of new technologies.
“The implementation of such major change has had a negative impact on performance, but the service is confident that both issues and visits will now begin to increase.”
Darren Taylor, CEO of Eco, said that the number of people using the three libraries they own had actually increased, irrespective of the amount of books taken out.
“Lewisham has been a guinea pig for community libraries – it’s really forward thinking. But it would be good if people start judging us once we get the new technology in after Christmas.”