Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Newington Reference Library

Last night I attended a public meeting to discuss proposed changes to Southwark's only reference library, which is based in the Newington Library on the Walworth Road. In a well-intentioned attempt to make the library accessible to all and compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act the Council have proposed that the library situated on the first floor of the building should be closed and partially re-sited to the ground floor.

The public can currently have access to 8,500 books in a remarkably light and airy library on the first floor. Under the proposed changes the number of available books would be reduced by approximately 80% and access to the available remainder would be in comparatively cramped conditions on the ground floor.

Cllr Stanton, the currrent Leader of the Council, argued that the alternative to these proposals would invovle the installation of a lift from the ground to the first floor at a cost of £400,000 which the Council could not afford. Although users would not be able to browse through all of the books they would be able to ask library staff to retrieve a particular book if they wished.

Those who attended the meeting and use the library were uniformly opposed to the proposals. Part of the joy of browsing through books in a library is finding a book which you did not know existed. This would be lost under the current proposals and I have no doubt that people would be deterred from using the library as they presently do.

I do not think these proposals have been thought through, and the users of the library should not be placed in the position of having to effectively argue against DDA compliance in order to retain their current reference facilities.

Also I am not sure that the options are as limited as presented by the Council. There are many government and public buildings which are DDA compliant but which have not installed major passenger lifts. It really is time to look again at these proposals and find a solution which suits all users and potential users of the library.

The current proposals can be found here

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