Response to Library proposals by Lee Manor Society  

Looking east to new children's library
The children’s library during restoration
Dressing Portland stone
Dressing Portland stone for the exterior

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ralph White was involved in the restoration of the Manor House which houses the library. The project was a labour of love as well as a major investment. What is the future of the library now?

Response to Library proposals

Summary

 The implicit question is whether the choice is between (1) the management of Grade II* listed asset in which is based a library, or (2) maintaining a library which has extended community activities associated with it?  Either option demands professional facilities management and we do not believe that a volunteer-dependent organisation will have the capability to manage either model..

Background

It is with considerable sadness and concern that we note the proposal to change Manor House Library to a self-service Community Library, relying almost totally for its operation on a team of volunteers.  The loss of professional librarians will result in a considerable and unacceptable downgrading of the service to local people.

We wish to highlight other issues that do not appear to have been addressed and which concern the potential impact of the current proposals on the operation of the Manor House as a whole and not just the Library.  The building is Grade II* listed and is an extremely important heritage asset which was given to the predecessors of the current Borough Council.

  1. Blackheath Village Community Library just about functions on a team of about 35 – 40 volunteers but with the advantage that it is housed in a facility (Age Exchange) that has a stable infrastructure and other ongoing activities. It is not a heritage asset.  The Manor House is a much larger operation but currently functions without the services of an overarching Facilities Manager.  There are often activities in the building even if the Library is closed.  The risk of vandalism is high.
  1. Manor House Library would logically require a much bigger team of volunteers than Blackheath Village community library and it is hardly realistic to expect that one individual could supervise the security of the entire building when other services are not present. Currently we understand that at least three staff need to be present to keep the library open to the public.  Simple arithmetic from the Blackheath experience suggests maintaining a rota of at least 100- 120 volunteers just for basic hours let alone weekend and evening opening.  We doubt this is attainable.  So, will floor space be an inevitable loss?  Will stock then be sold off?  What about the inter-library lending scheme?
  1. What level of authority would volunteers have and what would be their duties? Buildings maintenance?  Grounds?  Health & Safety?  Cleaning of toilets?  Cleaning of kitchens?  Supervision of parking?  Weddings?  Booking  / Hire of rooms?  Book reservations?  Handling money e.g. fines?  Security of the multiple entrances/exits?
  1. In terms of security of the capital asset, we can only guess that the property will be uninsurable if used in the proposed way (and so cannot be used). There is also the question of the personal security of users and volunteers and presumably the need for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks.  Adherence to DDA legislation (the lifts are notoriously unreliable).  Locking of the garden gates?  Unless the building is managed well and safety is properly prioritised then the volunteers who do come forward will quickly leave.
  1. It is not just the likelihood of a reduction in main Library activities if too few volunteers come forward that concerns us but also the loss of valued related activities such as Reading Groups, Homework Clubs, Foreign Language Groups, Film Clubs, Lively Minds and visits by local schools. Many of these utilise the AV suite and the Baring Room and so continuity of availability will be essential.  There is no guarantee that any partner chosen to manage the Manor House would decide to run such activities.
  1. The Library is heavily dependent upon IT for the checking of stock in and out, and there is always a good level of occupation of the work stations by students and visitors. Where will the competent expertise be found to keep these services running?
  1. Manor House building was recently redeveloped at great cost to the Council and its rooms have been beautifully restored. Lee Manor Society is very concerned that potential partners might not be able to maintain this historic building and that its condition might deteriorate as a result of the proposals. 
  1. The consultation paper states the major ‘con’ regarding extending the community library model is that suitable partners will not be found. The consequent risk is that this could lead to a poor partner being chosen who may fail to maintain the building and/or work with the library service to support continued provision of library services and other community activities at the venue.  We would even countenance a cut in hours in order to fund the professional support it needs.

Conclusion

We are unimpressed with the current proposals which do not appear to have been thought through.  We would urge the Library and Information Serviced to consider the wider issue which is to step up the use of the building as a whole and provide a stable enterprise that will allow the Library to continue to operate effectively.

Lee Manor Society

November 2015


 

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