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29 February 2016

The Future of Forest Hill Library

At the end of 2015 the council ran a consultation on library provision proposing to turn Forest Hill, Torridon Road, and Manor House libraries into ‘Community Libraries’. During the public consultation 54% of respondents rejected all the options proposed by the council and 59% rejected the council’s preferred option of downgrading these libraries to community libraries.

Despite these views expressed in the consultation, and the opposition of the Forest Hill Society among other civic societies and user groups, the mayor of Lewisham accepted the recommendations of the report. It would be unfair not to mention that Lewisham council, like others across the country, are under enormous pressure to cut budgets and find savings wherever they can. Across the country this is resulting in the closure and downgrading of library services, although some, such as Southwark, have managed to avoid significant disruption to library services.

With the decision made to downgrade the libraries we now need to look to the future. The Forest Hill Society will be doing everything we can to ensure that Forest Hill library continues serves the community as well as it possibly can. Over the next few months the council will be putting the library services out to tender. We understand that at the early stages there have been around eight expressions of interest in running one or more of the community libraries in Lewisham. The ambitious plan is to have other organisations running these libraries by August 2016.

The major concern from the Forest Hill Society is that levels of book borrowing continue to be maintained and we do not see the 70% drops that other community libraries have experienced in the last 4 years (compared to a drop of just 4% in Forest Hill over the same period). To achieve this the council needs to ensure that their IT systems are able to work properly with the community libraries, levels of stock must be retained, primary school  visits must be facilitated, and volunteer levels must be sufficient to keep the library open seven days a week, from morning to late evening.

The Forest Hill Society will be looking at what we can do to safeguard the future of the library. This is now likely to involve being part of a consortium (together with local traders, V22 - next door in Louise House, and other partner organisations) bidding to run these services. But whoever does take on the management of the library, we know that we have a vital role to play in helping to find volunteers.

If you would be interested in volunteering for a few hours per week at the library we would like to hear from you so that we can start compiling a volunteer list to help with the transition in August 2016.
At this stage we don’t know what your duties would be, but an interest in books and internet research would be a big advantage. If you would be interested, please contact michael@fhsoc.com

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