CLOSED: Help shape the future of Tower Hamlets' library service

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Introduction

Over the years, Tower Hamlets Council has created a pioneering library service that has been copied throughout the world.

The council currently has five Idea Stores (Idea Store Bow, Idea Store Whitechapel, Idea Store Chrisp Street, Idea Store Canary Wharf and Idea Store Watney Market), two libraries (Cubitt Town and Bethnal Green) and a local history library and archives based in Mile End.

Back in 1999, Tower Hamlets had one of the worst performing library services in London.

Whilst libraries across the country were struggling to make themselves relevant to today’s society - where books and information can be

Introduction

Over the years, Tower Hamlets Council has created a pioneering library service that has been copied throughout the world.

The council currently has five Idea Stores (Idea Store Bow, Idea Store Whitechapel, Idea Store Chrisp Street, Idea Store Canary Wharf and Idea Store Watney Market), two libraries (Cubitt Town and Bethnal Green) and a local history library and archives based in Mile End.

Back in 1999, Tower Hamlets had one of the worst performing library services in London.

Whilst libraries across the country were struggling to make themselves relevant to today’s society - where books and information can be accessed on the move, Tower Hamlets was one of the first local authorities to take action, introducing 'Idea Stores', community hubs that put a library, cafe, adult education classes and computer access under one roof.

Idea Stores concept

The development of Idea Stores was based on one of the most comprehensive library consultation exercises undertaken in this country.

Local people said they wanted longer opening hours, including Sunday opening, and to be able to combine a visit to the library with other activities, particularly shopping.

Responding to this, each of the five new Idea Stores that opened between 2002 and 2013 were located in the middle of a busy shopping centre. The four main stores were open seven days a week and all stores were open until 9pm on weekdays.

From the start Idea Stores have been an integrated Library, Learning and Information service. The borough’s adult and community education programmes are delivered from the stores in dedicated learning labs.

The Idea Store information offer includes provision of digital hubs where people can access council digital services, with extra support from staff if they need it. This is the ‘full service’ on offer in Idea Stores and distinguishes them from the two stand-alone libraries.

Idea Stores provide a focal point for the communities in which they are based. They are vibrant places where people can learn, study, find out information, browse from a well curated collection of books, join in activities or events, meet friends – or just relax.

Achievements and response to pandemic

  • Since we introduced the Idea Stores visitor numbers have risen from 550,000 to just under two million.
  • More than 800 adult learning courses. Everything from ESOL, to business training and even ballet.
  • Doubling of adult learning registrations with 8,000 people taking part in our courses, every year.
  • Over 2,000 new members since March 2020
  • Significant increase in online activity since the introduction of online resources (eMagazines, eJournals, eBooks) including course registration and self-service machines to borrow and return books and check their account.
  • During the pandemic, the Idea Stores adapted to keep services running. Our storytime sessions, English language conversation groups and book clubs all went online.

Further details on our Idea Stores and libraries and how they are used can be found here and the services they offer.

Tough financial challenge ahead

Until now, Tower Hamlets has kept all its libraries and Idea Stores open in the face of continued government cuts which have seen 778 libraries close nationally since austerity was introduced a decade ago.

Continued government changes to council funding and the Covid-19 crisis mean the council has to save £30m by 2024. This is on top of £200m already saved since 2010. You can find out more in our budget consultation.

To do this, savings have to be made across the council including reducing the cost of the library service, which is £4.4 million a year. The savings proposed will deliver savings of £1.6 million.

Digital innovations introduced in recent years including online services mean that £600,000 of the savings can be made without reducing services. However, a further £1m needs to be found and the council is consulting on options to achieve this.

These options were developed using data measuring the numbers and types of visits to our two libraries and five Idea Store sites and the use of downloadable resources; an initial equalities impact assessment; and the location of the various buildings especially in terms of likely travel times.

The consultation includes a questionnaire for residents as well as focus groups to feedback on issues we might not be aware of, and make suggestions we may not have considered.

Two focus groups are planned, where residents, community, voluntary groups and other interested parties will be invited to discuss the two options put forward.

  • Thursday 17 December 2pm-3pm (details tbc)
  • Wednesday 13 January 6pm-7pm (details tbc)

Full details will be posted on the council website. These will enable us to better understand the impact of the proposed options and feed into the final recommendations that will be made to Cabinet in 2021.

Option 1

Deliver savings by:

  • closing Cubitt Town Library
  • reducing opening hours at Bethnal Green Library from 50 to 15 a week
  • reducing the space and opening hours at Idea Store Watney Market to one floor and from 65 to 30 hours a week
  • reducing Sunday opening hours at our four main sites from six hours to four hours
  • reducing evening staffing levels at our four main sites.

This option allows us to keep all but our least visited building (Cubitt Town Library) open and to keep the same level of adult learning provision.

The four main sites (Idea Store Bow, Idea Store Whitechapel, Idea Store Chrisp Street and Idea Store Canary Wharf) will remain open seven days a week and in the evenings, but Sunday opening and evening staffing will be reduced.

Cubitt Town Library will close as a library. The opening hours at Bethnal Green Library will reduce from 50 to 15 hours a week and the hours at Idea Store Watney Market will reduce from 65 to 30 hours a week.

The impact on service delivery:

Users of Cubitt Town Library would have to visit other sites for Storytime (under-fives daily sessions), Prime Time (50+ weekly sessions) and for general library services such as borrowing books, CDs, DVDs, information queries and accessing the internet. Read our EQIA for more details.

Users of Bethnal Green Library and Idea Store Watney Market would continue to benefit from regular activities (daily Storytime, weekly Prime Time), as well as all other library services, although access will be limited due to the shorter opening hours. Read our EQIA for more details.

There are no adult learning classes at the libraries or at Idea Store Watney Market, so there would be no impact on users who take part in the adult learning programme.

Residents affected can also take advantage of the wide variety of increasing online library services available.

Savings delivered by Option 1

Site

Saving

Notes

Cubitt Town Library

£ 195,000.00


Bethnal Green Library

£ 165,000.00


Idea Store Watney Market

£ 445,000.00


Idea Store Whitechapel

£ 55,000.00

This site also contributes to the £600,000 saving

Idea Store Chrisp Street

£ 30,000.00

This site also contributes to the £600,000 saving

Idea Store Bow

£ 30,000.00

This site also contributes to the £600,000 saving

Idea Store Canary Wharf

£ 30,000.00

This site also contributes to the £600,000 saving

Cross Service Saving

£ 50,000.00


Total

£ 1,000,000.00



Option 2

Deliver savings by:

  • Closing Cubitt Town and Bethnal Green Libraries and Idea Store Watney Market but keeping service levels at our four main sites unchanged.

This option allows us to keep the same opening hours at our four main sites and the same level of adult learning provision. However, it closes three sites which are valuable to their local communities.

The hours and staffing levels at the four main sites (Idea Store Whitechapel, Idea Store Bow, Idea Store Chrisp Street and Idea Store Canary Wharf) should remain unchanged, even if this means closing Cubitt Town Library, Bethnal Green Library and Idea Store Watney Market.

The impact on service delivery:

The impact on service delivery is that users of Bethnal Green Library, Cubitt Town Library and Idea Store Watney Market would have to visit other sites to access library services and take part in regular activities. Read the EQIA for more details.

As the adult learning programme is delivered only at Idea Stores in Bow, Canary Wharf, Chrisp Street and Whitechapel, there would be no impact on users who take part in the adult learning programme.

Residents affected can also take advantage of the wide variety of increasing online library services available.

This option allows us to keep the same opening hours at our four main sites and the same level of adult learning provision. However, it closes three sites which are valuable to their local communities.

The hours and staffing levels at the four main sites (Idea Store Whitechapel, Idea Store Bow, Idea Store Chrisp Street and Idea Store Canary Wharf) should remain unchanged, even if this means closing Cubitt Town Library, Bethnal Green Library and Idea Store Watney Market.

The impact on service delivery:

The impact on service delivery is that users of Bethnal Green Library, Cubitt Town Library and Idea Store Watney Market would have to visit other sites to access library services and take part in regular activities. Read our EQIA for more details.

As the adult learning programme is delivered only at Idea Stores in Bow, Canary Wharf, Chrisp Street and Whitechapel, there would be no impact on users who take part in the adult learning programme.

Residents affected can also take advantage of the wide variety of increasing online library services available.

Savings delivered by Option 2

Site

Saving

Notes

Cubitt Town Library

£ 195,000.00


Bethnal Green Library

£ 210,000.00


Idea Store Watney Market

£ 550,000.00


Idea Store Whitechapel

£ -

This site also contributes to the £600,000 saving

Idea Store Chrisp Street

£ -

This site also contributes to the £600,000 saving

Idea Store Bow

£ -

This site also contributes to the £600,000 saving

Idea Store Canary wharf

£ -

This site also contributes to the £600,000 saving

Cross Service Saving

£ 50,000.00


Total

£ 1,005,000.00



We anticipate that feedback from the public consultation will lead to a refined option that may be similar to one of the options above, but which could have more of an impact on the opening hours and offer at our four main stores.

To date, we have not developed an option which keeps all sites open at the expense of significantly reducing the hours at our four main sites because this would impact the range and quality of the services we offer.

In particular, it would prevent us from offering the number and range of adult learning courses that we currently do. However, the consultation questions will seek views on this.

Other Options

The option to keep services as they are and not make savings was not recommended as this would result in a budget shortfall for the service as well as placing the burden of identifying additional savings on other front line services.

Initial modelling also identified options that could deliver £2m total savings but these were not taken forwards as this would involve significant service reductions at most or all of our sites.

You can view the full Cabinet report for further details.

Five-year vision

Alongside the need to make savings we wish to continue to invest in our library service and are proposing a five-year vision which would result in:

  • Four well placed Idea Stores situated at Chrisp Street, Bow, a new site on the Isle of Dogs (the plan is that this site will be more centrally located on the island and replace Idea Store Canary Wharf). The Whitechapel store will be split across the current Idea Store Whitechapel and New Town Hall, acting as a cultural hub for the borough
  • All four sites will have some redesign which will support people to stay socially distant if required
  • Bethnal Green Library and Idea Store Watney Market will be run as satellite sites for Idea Store Bow and Idea Store Whitechapel respectively with a reduced service on offer
  • Our digital offer will continue to develop

This consultation is your chance to get involved and help shape the future of library provision in Tower Hamlets. The consultation is open to all residents and anyone who uses our library services and will only take a few minutes to complete.

The survey is open until 5pm, Friday 29 January 2021.


Completing the survey

We want to hear your thoughts through our survey, which is available at the bottom of this page. The survey is simple and easy to use - and should take around 10 minutes to complete.

If you're new to completing surveys online, we would encourage you to ask someone you live with (or someone you come into safe contact with, such as a carer) to assist you with this platform in person or over the phone.

If you do not have access to a computer or WiFi, you can book a computer session at Idea Store Bow, Idea Store Chrisp Street or Idea Store Whitechapel.

If you require help with filling in the online survey you can call 020 7364 0237.

Please be assured, all responses are confidential.


Covid-19 advice and support

We are continuing to work with partner organisations across Tower Hamlets to respond to the pandemic and make sure that our residents, particularly those most vulnerable, are given the support they need.

If you need local advice or support, please visit our dedicated Covid-19 webpage, subscribe to our regular updates or contact us if you need coronavirus-related support.

Page last updated: 14 March 2021, 16:33