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03 December 2015

Forest Hill Library Under Threat

During October and November 2015, Lewisham Council consulted residents on the future of the library services, including Forest Hill Library. The proposal from Lewisham Council was for Forest Hill, Manor House, and Torridon Road libraries to become Community Libraries.

Community libraries are owned and managed by not-for-profit organisations and rely on volunteers to keep the building open and services running. Since 2011, five community libraries have been operating in Lewisham, in Crofton Park, Sydenham, Grove Park, Blackheath and New Cross. As a result these libraries have a track record and can be compared to the seven libraries still managed by Lewisham Council.

These smaller libraries were under threat of closure in 2010, so the fact that they have remained open and have increased visitor numbers should be seen as a positive result. However, in terms of providing a working library they have not faired so well. All of the community libraries have seen massive falls in the numbers of books being lent out, with figures in 2014 showing a drop of between 60% and 90% since 2010. Nationally there has been a fall in book borrowing but nothing to compare to this. In the case of Forest Hill library the book borrowing rate fell by just 6% over the same four year period.

Forest Hill is now the third largest lender of books in the borough (after Lewisham and Deptford libraries). In total Forest Hill lends more books than the five community libraries put together. Forest Hill also runs a variety of other activities including IT training, primary school visits, film nights, and seasonal events as an integrated part of the high street.

The Forest Hill Society has written in opposition to the planned change of Forest Hill library to a community library with concerns regarding: a likely drop in book lending, lack of space for alternative (profitable) uses of the building, the number of volunteers needed to run a library for 66 hours a week across 7 days, and lack of professional library staff to make the library focused on books and information technology.

You can read the full submission from the Forest Hill Society here.

Mayor Sir Steve Bullock is due to make a decision on the future of our libraries on 9th December and we will keep you updated.

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