I LOVE LIBRARIES.
Fulham library in my boyhood was a place of peace and refuge where I learned the love of reading that has never left me.
I’ve always been proud of the fact that Ealing – unlike nearly every other borough in London – not only managed to keep the libraries open but refurbished and invested in our buildings.
Even though the pattern of library usage has changed massively from the traditional issuing of books to the modern community hub with computer screens, study rooms and meeting places; libraries hold a place in our affections and no-one wants to see a library close.
Sadly that is exactly what may be happening in Pitshanger Lane.
This is a small but well-loved library which may have one of the lowest number of visitors when compared to others in the borough but is held in great affection locally.
Currently costing the council £240,868.55 a year to run Pitshanger library is between the rock of declining usage and the hard place of an unavoidable £80million budget cut that has to be made in the next few months. There seems to be absolutely no accurate figures for the number of people using the library and some of the numbers quoted are utterly impressionistic as the people using a library were once counted by sensors in the doorframe or ceiling and when these nearly all packed up by a physical count by library staff with no validation.
I salute the determination of so many Pitshanger people who want to see a library remain here but I have nothing but sheer withering contempt for any Conservative who strikes up a petition to save a library that is under threat because of the discredited and brutal austerity programme imposed on us by their own Conservative government.
Cleveland Councillors are working as hard as is humanly possible to come up with a proposal that makes the saving but preserves the facility.
Pitshanger is one of only two libraries in the borough which the council does not own and as the lease is ending this December the chances of negotiating a reduction in the cost is pretty negligible.
One suggestion is co-location.
This sees a library sharing space with another community facility as has been done with such success at Northolt Leisure Centre and Jubilee Gardens in Southall.
Local ward Councillors Linda Burke, Sitarah Anjum and Carlo Lusuardi are meeting as many local people as possible and are looking at all potential sites for a Plan “B” when the lease runs out on Pitshanger Library.
To see a really successful library look no further than Northolt Library on Bengarth Road. This place hums like a top six days a week with clubs, school visits, outreach work and fully utilised meeting rooms.
Unsurprisingly Northolt bucks the trend of declining usage and has actually increased the number of readers, borrowers and library users.
Maybe it’s time to look again at the traditional library in this world of Kindle and home computers. There is a national decline in the numbers of books being lent and so far Ealing has managed to fight back against the tide of change but now new thinking is needed.
Maybe the “community hub” model is the way forward.
I want to give the Cleveland councillors a fair following wind and I wish them well in their endeavours. I thank library staff for all their work to date and assure them that their jobs and their efforts are valued and appreciated.
I’ll always love libraries and the one good thing to emerge from this current agony is the realisation that so many other people do so as well.