The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service 0 stars* as many of the libraries were of a very low standard, despite their growing use by residents. The prospects for improvement were judged to be uncertain because current action plans do not address the basic deficiencies of the service and because there are no firm, long-term plans for obtaining funding for the major investment which is needed in buildings and facilities.
Roy Irwin, regional director, London Region Inspection Service, said: 'Attempts have been made to improve libraries in Lambeth, and more people are starting to use them. However, the basic service is still poor and has a long way to go. We hope that this report will help the council focus on priorities for the future which will give local people access to a higher standard of facilities, materials and services from their libraries.'
The inspection report highlights a number of weaknesses:
- There has not been enough investment in books and other materials and there is no co-ordination of purchasing and management, so the range of materials available to the public is poor and unappealing.
- as a result, Lambeth's libraries are amongst the least used in London.
However, inspectors also found some strengths:
- improvements to buildings have been made or are in progress at four libraries and two new mobile library vehicles have been purchased recently.
- the service has a good record of obtaining funding from sources outside the council and has used it to pay for a number of projects which provide learning opportunities for the local community.
- a new head of service has recently been appointed with the aim of bringing about extensive changes to libraries.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
- a review of the service's management structure, to remove duplicated effort and to ensure that work is better co-ordinated.
- a detailed exploration of options for finding the funding needed to upgrade or replace existing library buildings.
- greater consultation with the local community to make sure that the basic services reflect the needs of people in the area.
The Libraries, Arts & Archives service currently costs in the region of£6,400,000 and employs the equivalent of 127 full-time staff.
A press release from the local authority follows.
Lambeth welcomes the independent report from the Audit Commission into the library service, and officers have worked co-operatively with the commission to produce an honest appraisal of the service.
Lambeth Library Service has been rated as 'poor' and the prospects on improvementas 'uncertain', following an inspection by the commission in January/February 2002, the final report of which has been published in May.
Michael Peters, executive director of education, said:
'We acknowledge the assessment of Lambeth's Libraries as poor, and that the number of visitors to our libraries, although increasing, is lower than the London average. We are, however, determined to reverse this and to improve the quality of library services for Lambeth residents. The libraries, archives and arts service is now part of the education directorate and our programme of improvement has already started.
'We will be producing a three year improvement plan, which will be presented to the Audit Commission and the department for culture, media and sport, in September. There are also new national public library standards, that were published in 2001 which clearly set out the levels of service that should be available in public libraries, and these will inform our improvement plan.
'Clearly, there are major challenges ahead, but I am confident that working with the community we will by 2004, have a service for to be proud of for all Lambeth residents.'