Tower Hamlets head of libraries says service was in a “strong position” to avoid cuts

The head of libraries in Tower Hamlets, Judith St John, has told the East London Advertiser about how the borough’s service was in a strong position to avoid council cuts.

Up and down the country, more than 450 libraries are facing closure as councils respond to the coalition government’s austerity measures which led to a national day of protest on February 5.

But the borough’s four Idea Stores in Bow, Canary Wharf, Chrisp Street and Whitechapel and five libraries, including the newly-opened Bancroft Local History library will see additional investments in their internet and issuing facilities, according to Ms St John.

She said: “We have to make efficiency savings, yes.

“Library users will probably see an improvement though.

“I think we’re in a strong position.

“We’ve done the work to get the business side correct – we have the right opening hours, we’re in the right places and we have the right technology.

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“For example, Whitechapel Idea Store is the busiest central London library outside Westminster.

A new Idea Store will open in Watney Street next year and after being piloted at the Canary Wharf store, self-service facilities are planned for all Tower Hamlets libraries by April.

They will use smart chips at the back of books to allow visitors to check them in and out themselves and investment in fibre-optic broadband is also planned.

Ms St John said removing the need for staff to work on issuing will not mean they have nothing to do though.

She said: “we’ve worked out what it will equate to in terms of work and then they work on a rota system, so every hour the staff change what they are working on. “You don’t have someone standing issuing books all day, they can do a number of things - they can take reading groups, run homework clubs, run internal courses.”

Another pressing task is to find funding for further investment in the Bancroft library and archive in Bancroft Road.

Once work has been completed on its roof and further improvements to disabled access made, a �1 million bid to the Heritage Lottery fund is likely.

Ms St John said: “We will be able to show to them that east London has a national gem.”

What has been your experience in Tower Hamlets libraries and it what areas is further investment required? Get in touch to let us know by posting below or through our Facebook or Twitter pages.