"Catastrophic" drop in Lewisham library lending

Publishing industry title The Bookseller reports a "catastrophic" drop in the number of books being lent by Lewisham's free libraries, including Crofton Park. The report, based on figures obtained by Cllr Christine Best, says:

Borrowing figures for October 2011 show Grove Park community library making just 722 loans during that month this year compared to 3,764 in October 2010, a mere 16% of its previous year's total. New Cross library saw just 458 issues this October compared with 2,770 in October last year; Sydenham library totalled 1,326 loans this October compared with 4,035 in the same month last year. Crofton Park library saw the best result, lending 2,836 times this October, 44% of its total of 6,036 in October 2010. Blackheath Village library saw the worst result, lending just 572 books in October this year, a mere 12% of the previous October's total of 5,044.

These figures could be the result of early teething problems experienced by the libraries in terms of back-end systems and access to books, the publicity around their possible closure may also have led to a short-term drop in users and the figures do not reflect the other valuable activities which the libraries have been supporting, but nonetheless it is a worrying result, given that it is the libraries' core function.

Cllr Best commented:

"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."

The Bookseller runs a campaign called Fight For Libraries.

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ignore the bookseller, this is an industry paper for people who have no idea what running multi million pound public services is actually like. Given the cuts Lewisham are facing the fact that they have kept some form of outlet in all places open is a cause for celebration not condemnation. And in some places they are open for longer hours then they were before. And it's obvious as well that the figures don't tell the whole story as there has obviously been a mix up in the new community libraries providing stats to the Council which accounts for the "catastrophic drop". Let's come back in a year and see what it is like before pandering to the cataclysmic and frankly childish rants of the publishing industry and their hangers on. No, I don't work for Lewisham. I just know about these things, and am getting a little fed up with the rubbish that gets put about by the publishing industry who quite frankly don't know what they are talking about.

Brockley Nick said...

Well I agree that it's best to take these figures with a pinch of salt and I thought it was important to reference the fact that they are campaigning against library closures, so it needs to be seen in that context. I also agree that these libraries need to be given time to get it right. However, I'm glad that these figures have been made public.

darryl said...

Cripes - that's almost an 89% drop at Blackheath Village. Mind you, the new library there is 89% smaller at the moment...

Edith said...

Apologies for laziness: I'm going to copy and paste the comment I made on a library news blog where I saw these stats earlier:

"On the Lewisham stats, I think part of the issue is very poor usage/updating of the library system by undertrained volunteers etc. I borrowed two books from the New Cross 'community' library and after a few days they hadn't appeared on my online library account. On returning one book to the central library I asked about this - the assistant rolled their eyes and explained they'd had a lot of problems at New Cross (I didn't ask about the other outsourced libraries). They're supposed to regularly sync their issues with the system but over three weeks later the other book still isn't on my record. If I wanted I could keep it. Apparently I also need to keep an eye on my account as they might sync the issue after I return the book...

I'm not arguing that usage hasn't dropped, but that lack of training/experience does mean the stats are likely to be far below reality. In the near future I think lost item stats for the affected libraries will make interesting reading."

terrencetrentderby said...

bugger me people in lewisham can read?!

Lou Baker said...

How much does Lewisham spend on libraries?

I found a Guardian article from earlier this year suggesting it's around £4.6m.

If that's true it's a lot of money for a borough with 250,000 in it. £20 a head.

Put it another way, £4.6m would buy more than 50,000 Kindles. 20% of the borough's residents could be given one - and they could access tens of thousands of e-books without additional charges.

The libraries could then mostly be shut down - save for one big central library - saving further cash next year, enabling more residents to benefit from an ebook reader. Would ultimately be cheaper, more convenient and better.

Brockley Nick said...

And then Steve Bullock could pick his favourite 20% of residents and give them the Kindles.

Anonymous said...

you have to buy books on a kindle....or am i missing something?

Brockley Nick said...

There are a lot of free books available on the Kindle as digital downloads. Not necessarily lots you'd want to read.

Anonymous said...

Any of Clarkson's work? I find his views compelling, that Hume and Descartes could learn a thing or two.

Oaksys said...

There should be a carved stone plaque in front of the libraries listing the names and salaries of every council official earning more than £50,000. That would go a long way to explaining why the libraries are closed or volunteered. Add to that the interest payment on the half billion pound debt run up by the council.

Anonymous said...

Not the earning thing again! The redest of red herrings. Limit everyone on the public payroll to £49k will not result in a miraculous perfect local authority. Why would a talented teacher, manager, engineer, health worker want to join an organisation that limits their salary or one where they a pilloried for earning a particular salary with no understanding of what the job entails by the critic. A daft populist move.

NAT said...

Oaksy, Lewisham are half a billion in debt! Never heard of this. Any backup? Not saying it's untrue, just intrigued.

NAT said...

I see you're in consulting BTW.

Should we be worried?

FrFintonStack said...

I can't make any comment on the veracity of the paper, but, bearing in my my experiences with Crofton Park Community Library, I can say I'm not surprised. When I registered with them, they either didn't know how, or forgot, to fill in any of my details: my name, address, DOB etc. etc. were all left blank, and the PIN was set to 0000. I had no idea that this had happened: all I knew was that I couldn't get online using the barcode from the card and PiN I was given. To begin with, I was assured, via email, that this was because the system was changing. When it was obvious that this was not the case, I went to CPL, and was told by the volunteers that there was nothing they could do to help because they couldn't get into my details on the system. I eventually went to the main Lewisham library where they told me the problem, sorted it, and were bloody furious.

My next experience was going to CPL to check if some of the books I had ordered were available, and was told by the volunteer that they had no way of checking and that I was to check online (how, he couldn't tell me). This simply makes no sense: how can the library *not know* if they have books for me, and, that being the case, how will my checking online help?

So I'm not surprised there has been a catastrophic drop in lending from the likes of Crofton Park: it has effectively made it impossible for me to borrow books from them, or at least those they don't already have in stock. Whether this is due to poor volunteer training, because you get the staff you pay for, or because they're not being given the resources (e.g. database access) to provide an adequate service, I don't know. Whatever way, it has resulted in a service that has been for me literally worse than useless since without it I would just have talked the extra fifteen minutes and received the professional service from Lewisham Library to begin with, which is precisely what I'll be doing in future.

NAT said...

Troublesome times indeed fawther. What do you reckon to your man above? He wont say a thing to me about the half a billion, after him mentioning it.

Anonymous said...

I do think that for quite a while the volunteer run libraries weren't fully integrated with the data-base.

Anonymous said...

Are any reliable records kept of the type of people who borrow books?

I wonder if many involved in gang culture use the library service.

Tim said...

I have just read Lou Baker's comment. Why not? Less than 20% of the borough's residents use libraries, I'm sure. Given that this cost can be covered with one year's budget, costs saved in future years can partly help subsidise the purchase of Ebooks. Clearly details need to be ironed out but I think it's an excellent idea. Obviously, it's far too innovative and fresh thinking to actually be adopted, but it's a nice thought.

Anonymous said...

So instead of one book that can be read hundreds of times by different people you have to subsidise someone to buy it, presumably every time someone else want to read the same book you'd have to buy it again. That wil be cheaper and increase access to books for many. Of course the limited range of books on kindle is not an issue, including the lack of text books. The lack of obtaining the loan of an expensive and rare book through interl library lending is not an issue. The person receiving the ereader can leave the borough, or sell it. Yep, a few details to iron out. Nothing to do with ideology, it's just half baked....surprised? Not really.

Lou Baker said...

@anon

Sigh. And sigh again.

It is deeply depressing that when anyone suggests anything new that they are instantly hit by a wall of abuse from those who refuse any change.

I don't doubt that moving the library service towards a more ebook based service will be challenging - but it can be done AND it would prove cheaper in the long run.

There are already 36,000 free titles available as ebooks. Including most of the classics. That should be more than enough for most people - and it costs nothing however many people read them.

Of course, as I've said all along, Lewisham should keep one library. A properly stocked central library. Here you can get your rare books, inter library loans and anything else you expect others to subsidise for you.

As for your worries of people selling the ebook readers or moving - how is this any different from what they can already do with normal books borrowed from a library? Answer: it's not.

Yes there would be plenty of issues to iron out but it's definitely something to look at.

Anonymous said...

What about book in print, new books. Books that people may actually want to read. They're not free. Its not a trivial point but feel free to bat that away with your usual skill.

Anonymous said...

digital spy

Lou Baker said...

There will still be a library in Lewisham you can use if you desperately need the newest book.

Or - shock horror - you could buy it instead.

As always objection for objection sake.

NAT said...

Thanks for the suggestion Lou.

Priceless.

And uncosted.

Anonymous said...

I didn't realise these libraries were still open...and now they are, can you take library books say from Wavelengths back to New Cross?

Anonymous said...

We can all brainstorm ideas, it's a creative process. here's one, why do we need physical spaces? why not hve a postal lending system like Lovefilm? bound to be cheaper and could easily integrate it with a PC, even publihing a paper catalouge for the oldies would be inexpensive.

Now I can already see issues there, a physical building is useful for other related uses etc, etc....

But that's OK, it stimulates debate. Now my Magic Marker is uncapped and hovering, sorry Lou your idea falls at the first cut. All it dies is give 1 in 5 an ebook reader and acess to a very limited range of books, the copyright for is 70years after the authors death. Kind of limits the range. The idea would be costly and give access to fewer titles.

C- must try harder.

Lou Baker said...

This brilliantly demonstrates the main problem with public services. They are almost impossible to reform because professional naysayers - like NAT and anon - dismiss any attempts of progress.

No doubt union insiders - these people thrive on keeping things as they are. On keeping services substandard.

Ebooks are already here. They're outselling regular books in many genres. They offer library services significant potential to save money - libraries would need less physical space, which is expensive. And they offer the potential for library users to get a better service too.

I don't doubt there would be issues to iron out. But it is an idea worth trying - despite what the professional cynics say.

NAT said...

Sounds like an expensive 'try out' for the taxpayer Lou.

It's been explained to you why it wouldn't work.

I'm self employed and don't belong to a union.

kolp said...

I like blue skies thinking, Lou's idea is not half bad, with google's digitisation project and appropiate licensing issues ironed out the 'council kindle*' idea could work. Though I think a tablet maybe a better bet, India has produced a subsidised prototype tablet at $35, the Aakash tablet. Though i'd love to see a British built low cost slate fulfilling this need.

Note that the central borough library would be the hub for services, as the law covering this area requires the maintenance of "a comprehensive and efficient library service."

Anonymous said...

yeeeessss... Lou. Some issues, like 99% of current books not avilable and no mechanism to loan them.

Like I say Lou, it's at best a brainstormed idea but someway from an alternative solution. Lets hope ypou never get hold of the public purse.

Mind you, you were predicting the end of our troubles because you's seen 'some cranes' and Subways were recruiting so perhaps your judgement needs looking at

And unions? not sure where the conflation of other issues come in. the 'strawman' argument, look it up in a book.

NXPL Volunteers said...

New Cross People's Library is a library run by the people for the people.There has undoubtedly been mistakes made through the present issuing equipment but the future self issue will show the actual numbers more correctly. Anyway a library isn't just about book lending, it's about interacting with the community. One statistic worth mentioning is the fact that NXPL had over 6,000 visitors last month with the potential to increase this when we can introduce some more innovative events.

Brockley Nick said...

Rather than pitting Lewisham Council against Amazon to see which of them can come up with the low-cost e-reader solution first, how about we just abolish VAT on ebooks, as a step towards making the technology more accessible to all.

The government is completely inconsistent on this. On the one hand, it's forever lecturing the creative industries on how they need to be platform neutral, embrace new business models, etc, etc. On the other hand, it treats different technologies differently. They finally got round to allowing product placement on broadcast television (as it is on internet TV), time to remove the VAT inconsistency too.

Oh, and how about the government negotiating a reading list for the people each year - paying copyright owners a fixed sum for UK residents to be able to download certain books each year for free. A bit Reithian, but nothing wrong with that.

Lou Baker said...

@anon

Yes, I said the economy in London is picking up - and I believe it is. There are jobs around, building has resumed , shops are busy. That's not to say things are back to normal - but things are on an upward trend. Of course the Eurozone could still mess things up.

It's not the same in the rest of the country - particularly areas dependent on the public sector. Perhaps this will teach them that bureaucrats are no substitute for entrepreneurs.

As for libraries - 99% of books are not available in my local library. How is it any different? Answer: it's not.

Nick raises some valid issues but they are all resolvable. Ebooks are the way forward for libraries. It's a way to provide a better service, to more people, for less money. No wonder you don't understand it.

fabhat said...

Having just spent a frustrating 45 mins with my temporarily incapacitated mother, trying to order - or even see what books are available at Lewisham library I'd sugget at least some of it is to do with there newly awful web portal. I haven't been able to renew online since it changed over and today we couldn't find a single book despite trying various different searches. So annoying!

Tamsin said...

How's she doing? Anything I might have that we can lend?

fabhat said...

That's very kind Tamsin - I'm going to the library for Mum tomorrow (and will call her and read out titles in case I get ones she's already read) - but it's audio books on cd that she really wants - so if you have any of those...?

fabhat said...

and of course that should have been their not there in my original post...

Jez said...

There's an old story about some Quakers in the US who were thinking of closing their library because of underuse. No idea if it is true but the sentiment rmains. Here it is: http://ilovefranklinave.blogspot.com/2011/01/value-of-libraries.html

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but e-books are only suitable for some types of books.

Pulp fiction and paper backs, sure. But have you tried reading a book with pictures and diagrams on one of these things? It is not good, they also don't do colour very well.

The displays are really not ready yet. People are prepared to make compromises if they want something to read while traveling. But if you want to some serious study these devices have quite some way to go.

The file formats are also a liability,there are several different formats and conversion between them is not straightforward.

Then, of course, there is the whole business of which e-books have deals with which publishers and the copywrite issues.

It is a very immature business and is not a convenient panacea to the libray question that some people seem to suggest.

Brockley Nick said...

"have you tried reading a book with pictures and diagrams on one of these things? It is not good, they also don't do colour very well."

Try getting the Kindle App for the iPad.

Anonymous said...

"Try getting the Kindle App for the iPad." Assumes endless funds available for every pesky nuance of the new digital doodahs. Some of us can't afford an ipad. And if I had a kindle why should I buy an ipad and an app. Just buy a book.

Tamsin said...

Buying books - plug, plug - since it is actually relevant...

Book Sale in aid of Crisis and the NXPL jointly at the Telegraph Hill Centre on Saturday 28th Jan from 2pm to 5pm - as before on a "bring and buy" basis, so new stock should be coming in throughout the sale. However advance donations gratefully received at the Centre or Hill Station (preferably) or the Library (if necessary).

Brockley Nick said...

I don't assume anything. You said ebooks couldn't compare for illustrations and diagrams. I'm just pointing out that that's not true.

Price is a separate matter.

Anonymous said...

An ipad isn't what most people would call an e-book. So it is true.

Brockley Nick said...

"An ipad isn't what most people would call an e-book. So it is true."

What "most people" believe is never a useful guide to objective truth. And in any case, it's not the iPad or the Kindle device that's the e-book, it's the data file (which can be displayed on various formats - if you have a Kindle download, you can read it on a Kindle, a smart phone, a laptop, a desktop or a tablet).

So it is hogwash.

Anonymous said...

Rhubarb!

There are issues with displaying common PDF files and the handling of large books. The zoom is poorly handled on the kindle. Different readers have different sized screens and they don't do colour.

Different publishers are using diffeent file formats and there are issues with converting between them. Often the formatting is lost.

We have different E-readers (and different models of Kindle, different file formats and different publishers selling E-books.

There is a lot of scope for incompatibility.

They concentrate on making paperbacks and newspapers look good but text books are not handled well.

Do you suppose kids who need to look at colour diagrams get an Ipad and those that only need a black and white will get a Kindle?

E-books and readers are being over hyped and the companies that sell the readers, own the formats and the own the content are have yet to arrive at agreements that ensure compatibility.

The end user has to find solutions to these format wars themselves and this undermines the utility of the whole product.

I am sure a professional guy with time to spare can trawl the internet looking for solutions case by case. But do not wish that upon academic or other organisations that require a workable standard for all types of document. Extrapolating an individulas experience with their preferred reading matter to the generality is hardly useful.

It is not difficult to find discussions about this. There are lots of wrinkles to iron out:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1591994/is-the-amazon-kindle-suitable-for-programming-books

Anonymous said...

"What "most people" believe is never a useful guide to objective truth."

Patronising tosh.

"And in any case, it's not the iPad or the Kindle device that's the e-book, it's the data file (which can be displayed on various formats - if you have a Kindle download, you can read it on a Kindle, a smart phone, a laptop, a desktop or a tablet)."

Clever clogs nonsense to support earlier elitist ramblings.

Brockley Nick said...

None of that has anything to do withe question of whether there are ways of looking at pictures in colour, to which the simple answer is yes, as you admit yourself.

max said...

Not specifically about books and ebooks but this makes the point very well.

Anonymous said...

A more practical solution would be to stick with a paper text book.

It has very high resolution and lots of colour and handles diagrams wonderfully.

This e-ink technology and the readers, the formats and the publishing are still all over the place.

Just because you see a few people reading them on the tubes and trains does not mean they are suitable for every type of document.

It is not wise to be suckered by the marketing hype surrounding these devices.

The technology is still immature.

spincat said...

Although I agree that the Lewisham library web portal changes have been a very frustrating experience, one very good thing is that we now have access to books from other boroughs - we can see them on the catalogue and can order them in for collection at a Lewisham branch... I have made use of this service quite a bit already (that is, when the catalogue is up !)

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