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Saturday, 30 January 2016

Marketing Willesden Library Centre

I have mentioned before that Willesden Library will not be functioning properly until it has a cafe up and running.  This has turned into something of a saga, which illustrates some of the dilemmas of effective procurement.

The initial brief, partly derived from comments at a previous Willesden L:ibrary users group, was to have a small local business take over the cafe.  The negotiations fell through at a very late stage.  Hence, there is still no prospect of a cafe opening soon.

The whole issue has now been rethought, and it is suggested that the cafe franchise be bundled into looking after the cultural activities as well.  The Council have long had a plan that an external provider should market the spaces in the Centre.  Models for this kind of thing exist with The Albany in Canada Water and the Arts Depot in Barnet.  However, it is quite a new idea and there are only a limited number of providers so the competition for such a contract, and the evidence for assessing it is likely to be weak.  Bundling a cafe in with hiring the spaces should exploit a synergy between the two.  The events attract audiences who the cafe can sell to, and the cafe makes the events a nicer experience.  Once the cafe is up and running it should also make the library itself more attractive as it has at Wembley

However, putting all this together is unfortunately taking a long time, and it looks likely that the original emphasis on having local business involvement will fall be the wayside.

The process also explains the mystery of the Long Room, which remains closed off.  That had considered the right site for the Customer Service offer at Willesden, but customer services decided it was better to do everything in Wembley.  On the whole, I think that was the right decision.  Their original estimate of demand overlooked the extent to which people are increasingly doing things online.  There just doesn't seem to be enough traffic to cater for two different centres.  Indeed I have speculated whether the PCs left for this purpose in Willesden should just become general access

How that eventually gets used, whether as a successor to the Library Lab for example, remains to be seen, but it would be good if the space could be accessed temporarily in the meantime.  I was in the Library last Sunday and it was so full that the only workspace I could find was in front of a PC.  Since I had my laptop, I felt slightly guilty about using that space even though there were plenty of desktop PCs available.  I think the designers of the Library hadn't fully thought through how more and more people use the Library just for accessing WiFi with their own devices.  Opening the Long Room and putting some tables and chairs in it would be as good a use as any. 

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