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Friday, 31 July 2015

Martin Francis on the Former Preston Library

Martin Francis reports that the former Preston Library is going to be used for school places again.  This means that the group using it under temporary license will have to move out.  What I find odd about this is that the many problems of the Council just handing the building over to a group have been in the public domain for some time.  In particular, the notion of a peppercorn rent seems wholly unrealistic.

As an addendum, I see that the group gives a precise figure for usage in June, 663.  Measuring performance at volunteer libraries seems essential to me, and I regret that it is not done more often.  In public libraries, June tends to be an unusually good month, but if we assume that for the Preston establishment it is average that would give an annualised footfall of 7,956.  That might seem like a lot, but it demonstrates that a public library service such as Brent Libraries is operating on a totally different scale to the volunteer libraries that are sometimes suggested as their replacement. 

In 2014/15, the Brent library with the lowest footfall was Kingsbury, which had a footfall of 146,870, or 12,239 in an average month.  Brent's other libraries averaged much higher levels.  When people such as Ed Vaizey advocate volunteer libraries they really are suggesting replacing the public library service with something fundamentally different.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Library Opening Hours in Brent

I remarked in my post on the opening of Willesden Library that it has different opening hours to what became standard as part of the Libraries Transformation Project.  Brent Libraries are due for another review, although I doubt whether it will be as far reaching as the 2011 one.  It would be interesting to see the data as to whether a 9am opening is preferable to (say) the equivalent time in the evening.  I have also heard people argue that Sunday opening would be welcome.  Willesden Library is the only Brent library to open on Sunday mornings as opposed to Sunday afternoons, so it will be interesting to see how popular that is.  Incidentally, I wonder how many Council libraries in the UK still open on Sundays at all?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Inside the New Willesden Library Centre

The new Willesden Library opened yesterday, and I must say it is even more spectacular than I imagined.  As you can see from my previous post, the exterior still has builders all round it, who will continue working on the housing that pays for the whole project for quite a while to come, but the inside is now functioning as a library. 

The library is on three floors with a central light well in the middle.  The light looks like this from the ground floor:

The ground floor is too big for a single picture.  Here is the part nearest Brondesbury Park:

Unlike the old Willesden Library, you can actually see out on to the street:

Looking more towards the back, you can see some of the ipads laid out:

When the builders finally depart, it will be possible to access the library from the rear as well as the front:

Now let's move up the stairs to the first floor:

The first floor is huge:

It has displays around the light well drawing on local history.  I suspect these are intended to draw you up to the new Brent Museum on the second floor. 

The second floor has yet more books, and yet more computers.  This how it looks at the back.  The windows face towards the housing.

As I was going round, one of the library staff started chatted to me.  She said that rebuilding the library had been the subject of some controversy, a fact of which I was aware.  I defy anyone who can remember the old Willesden Library Centre to say that the new one is not a huge improvement.  I shall probably do some more posts in a while, particularly on the new Museum and the exhibition spaces that have yet to open.  At the moment, I will just leave one last view of the light well:

Friday, 24 July 2015

What will be in the New Willesden Library Centre?

The new Willesden Library Centre opens on Monday morning.  Full details of the services available are here

Willesden Library Itself
Unlike other Brent libraries, Willesden is promised to open from 9am on week days (the rest open from 10am).  Closing time on each weekday is 8pm, which again gives it longer opening hours than most Brent libraries, which only open that time for two or three days a week.  Weekend opening is also slightly longer, with Willesden starting at 10am on Sundays, unlike Brent's other libraries which all open from noon on Sundays.

I assume that these opening hours are ones where the library is fully staffed i.e. not the situation where only self service is available in Wembley Library from 8am to 10am.  Whilst that is welcome, it is obviously not as good as having properly staffed opening hours.  

We are promised that the library will also feature:
  • the latest fiction, non-fiction and information for adults and children
  • comfortable furnishings
  • loan and reference books for adults and children in many languages including Tamil, Gujurati, Polish, Arabic, Urdu, French, Spanish and Portuguese
  • a spacious area for children and parents with books and reading space
  • 66 public computers
  • colour photocopier, printer and scanner
  • 14 iPads
  • over 120 study spaces in the main library
  • teen area
  • IT facilities and Wi-Fi
  • free online resources such as E-book downloads, E-magazines and learning courses
  • DVDs
  • audio books
  • newspapers and magazines
  • A series of public events of diverse kinds.  
As Well as The Library...
The new library centre will also host Brent Museum and archives as well as a gallery space with a number of exhibitions planned for the Summer.  The building will have a number of other spaces available for hire.  Unlike the old building, these have been designed to be suitable for performances (The old Willesden Centre spaces had such poor sound insulation that neighbours would complain).  The library also has a cafe, which is one of the features that makes Wembley Library such a success.  Finally, there are a number of self service kiosks for accessing Council services.

That is all an enormous step forward which only came about because we pursued the Libraries Transformation Project to a conclusion, and overcame the often spurious objections to the development. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

New Willesden Green Library Pictures

The new Willesden Green Library is opening on 27 July, as the last stage of the Libraries Transformation Project begun back in 2011.  I gather that copies of Go Set a Watchman have been ordered specially for the opening day.  The new library will have a capacity of around 40,000 books, which is even more than the refurbished Kilburn Library

I have mentioned before that the old Willesden Library had a terrible relationship with the surrounding area. The new area is still a building site, but looks much better in terms of interacting with its surroundings.

This is the remains of the former 1890s library that used to be on the site.  Actually, most of the building was reconstructed when the 1890s library was mostly demolished in the 1980s, so it ac6tually fairly modern.  Some think that keeping this 1890s style extension on to a modern building looks a bit odd, but there was undoubtedly great public demand for it to remain.

This is some of the new housing that pays for the new cultural centre.  It is seen from the Brondesbury Park side.

This is what some of the anti-library people described as the "canyon" between the new library centre (to the left) and the new housing to the right.  I think, that once all the building stuff is cleared away, it could be a nice public space.

This is a better view of the new housing as it looks on to the back of the library centre.

This is a view of the new library centre from the Grange Road side looking towards Willesden High Road. 

This is a full on view of the Grange Road side taken from the interim library in George Furness House showing more the detailing.  The 1980s library centre simply had a blank featureless wall here, which was visually so dull that I have been unable to find any photo of it for contrast.

Although it is still a bit difficult to visualise it at the moment because of all the builder's stuff still around, I think the new building should look really good.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Mahatma Gandhi House in Wembley

I see Mahatma Gandhi House has been sold for housing.  Unfortunately, Brent Council will not get a capital receipt, as it was only renting there.  Still, it may allow the Council to save some money, as it was locked into a lease there which continued after the Council moved to the Civic Centre.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Brent Council Library Closures

Public Libraries News has a rather gloomy prognosis that Council's that have already gone through a round of library cuts will soon see another.  For many this is true.  He cites the Isle of Wight and North Yorkshire, but there will be others coming up.

I doubt, however, whether we will see any actual closures in Brent (indeed Brent is just about to open the new library in Willesden). 

Although there is a new library strategy due to come forward for consultation soon, I would be very surprised if any closures result.  I know that library closures were put forward as an option in the last two years, but it was a paper option, which no one really considered seriously.  Indeed one of the unintended benefits of the furore surrounding the 2011 library proposals is that there is likely to be little enthusiasm for another round.

More subtly, the litigation in 2011/2012, also gives the Council a firmly defensible baseline.  The library needs of the Borough were assessed, according to the judge, "with rigour" and upheld as sensible.  The same settlement was put to the Secretary of State for overturning, only for the request to be rejected.  Of course, Brent Libraries can also now demonstrate a remarkable record of success under the same project. 

The danger now is not so much one of closures as the kind of hollowing out that I sought to avoid in 2011.  We have seen bits and pieces of this in Brent, most notably the cut in the book fund in this year's budget.  However, so far Brent libraries have retained crucial aspects like seven day opening.  The danger is that hours and other things will be reduced little by little in a way that attracts little publicity, but has a huge effect on the service. 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Willesden Green Library Opening

The opening of Willesden Green's new library, the last stage in Brent Council's Libraries Transformation Project, is due on 27 July.  This means that the interim service will close on 23 July.  I hope the new library will be as great a success as its counterpart in Wembley.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Kilburn Calling

Cllr John Duffy has started a blog on Kilburn and Brent Council matters.  I imagine it will be interesting as he develops it.  He makes one accusation which is quite worrying.

He suggests that some one at Brent Council is snooping on Councillor emails.  He doesn't actually prove this in his blogpost.  As I read it, Council officers could have become aware of his correspondence once residents contacted him, but if he is correct, Council officers are operating unethically and possibly illegally.

This is because, as a councillor, John almost certainly has to deal with confidential information belonging to his constituents.  For example, pursuing a housing case might well involve medical or financial details that the constituent can expect to keep private.  It would be reasonable for Cllr Duffy to quote such information to housing officers dealing with the case, but if a member of Brent's IT department were accessing it that strikes me as a breach of confidentiality, and therefore of data protection laws.  I am not sure what the Law says more generally about snooping, but I suspect that John would have a case that his emails can't just be randomly trawled through.

The former, and for all I know, current policy of Brent Council on such matters is that electronic communications can only be monitored if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are being misused in this way.  I recall this from discussing it with the Borough Solicitor, who was the senior officer responsible at the time. 

Nor is this an abstract issue.  It came up when former Cllr Dhiraj Kataria made false allegations against a colleague, that had to be examined in a lengthy report by a solicitor.  Part of that case (dealt with 3.17 of the Brent Council covering report) referred to an email sent on 23 December to Cllr Paul Lorber.  Cllr Kataria denied sending it and cast aspersions on various colleagues, but these was discovered to be untrue once a technical investigation was ordered.  However, this was only done on 28 March 2012, after Cllr Paul Lorber had failed to answer the question about who had sent the email to him.  The passage in the Solicitor's report dealing with this issue (4.147-4.152) mentions Human Rights protection in a gfeneral way, without going into detail.

I think that if John really believes that his emails are or have been intercepted, he should ask Brent's new Chief Executive to order an investigation, and whoever has been intercepting the communications should be subject to disciplinary action.