Independent report slates Brent Council’s library service

Branches do ‘not engage well with the population’

Brent’s library service has come under fire once again after an independent report into public libraries revealed it was in the bottom quarter of authorities and claimed its current service “does not engage well with the population”.

The report, released by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa), compared Brent with 15 other authorities across London, providing a “comprehensive analysis of public libraries.”

It showed that Brent had the fewest number of libraries of any comparative borough, was “by far the worst” for libraries in relation to its population and had a “low proportion of active borrowers”.

The report stated that the average number of libraries in the boroughs was 11, one fewer than before Brent Council closed half its reading rooms last year.

Since the decision to close Barham, Preston, Neasden, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise and Tokyngton reading rooms was taken campaign groups have set-up various community and “pop-up” libraries and continue the fight to be able to return to their former homes.

Philip Bromberg, a member of the Preston Library Campaign, in Wembley, said the figures did not come as a surprise.

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He said: “We know that the closure of half the libraries has led to a significant drop in usage. The council say it’s their policy to deliver better service from fewer buildings but we disagree with that model.”

Members of the Friends of Preston Library have since set up their own community library in Preston Road.

Mr Bromberg added: “In a densely populated part of the city people should be able to walk to their nearest libraries and if they can’t they will stop using them which is what has happened here.”

Cllr Paul Lorber, leader of the borough’s Liberal Democrats group and a volunteer library campaigner at Barham’s community library in Wembley High Road, said: “It is clearer than ever that we need a radical change of policy in order to rescue the library service.”

However, Cllr James Powney, Brent Council’s Lead Member for Environment and Neighbourhood Services, said that instead of managing the gentle decline in a library service they have been able to focus resources on six libraries, bring in seven-day-a-week opening, longer opening hours and improved stock.

He said: “We have been able to refurbish and improve Ealing Road and Kilburn Library to create attractive and modern spaces and we are extending outreach services to parts of Brent which did not have a library nearby.

“The result has been that visits and borrowing at the six libraries are increasing.” I have always argued that the transformation project was not just about budgets but also about offering what library users wanted and expected and responding to the changes facing libraries.

“Brent Council offers an accessible and comprehensive library service as the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport has noted.”