In this month’s Middlesex Street Musings column Portsoken resident Ian McPherson asks why local amenity Artizan Street Library is not access all hours.
Library for the people?
I really like our local library at Artizan Street, located on the Middlesex Street Estate. Doubling as the community centre and local authority housing office, it’s the main social hub on the estate.
The staff there are a friendly bunch and it’s a pretty welcoming sort of place. There’s just one big problem. The library is seldom open at times when many local residents are actually able to use it.
Whilst retired people and office workers can visit during the weekdays, it is effectively inaccessible to any local Portsoken residents who work full time.
The opening hours were jiggled about last year, meaning that the library now closes at 4pm every weekday except for Monday evenings, when it is open until 7pm.
As someone who is seldom home from work much before 6.40pm, that leaves me with a maximum window of 20 minutes a week when I can use an excellent local amenity that is less than 100 yards from my front door.
The situation isn’t much better for our local kids either. Lessons finish at Sir John Cass Primary School at 3.25pm.
Should pupils fancy a post-school trip around the corner to Artizan Street Library, they have less than half an hour before closing time on any day other than Mondays.
Secondary schools are located much further away, meaning that any older children wanting to use the library as a place to learn and study are basically in the same boat as working adults, and are restricted to those same few hours on a Monday evening.
The City of London Corporation recently undertook a survey gauging customer opinion of library users in the Square Mile. The results make for interesting reading, with both children and adults rating Artizan Street library extremely high for user satisfaction.
Among the local children surveyed, half said that visiting the library helped them improve their reading, a third felt that their visits there helped them do better at school, and a further third said it helped them with their homework.
Four kids in 10 stated that the library provided them with a quiet sanctuary where they could work.
It’s a crying shame, then, that the current opening hours are clearly not really orientated towards many local people actually being able to use their library very much at all.
The City is currently consulting on modifying the opening hours at Artizan Street. It would appear that whilst we are told that there is no money for increased opening hours, the City is receptive to considering how these hours might be better spread across the week.
However, I do wonder how flexible the Corporation really intends to be on this matter.
Our librarians at Artizan Street not only issue books and CDs and re-stack bookshelves.
They also undertake distinctly non-librarian tasks such as issuing visitor parking permits as well as directing numerous customer enquiries to the housing office located in the floor above.
This leads me to wonder whether, for pragmatic reasons, it is perhaps convenient for the Corporation to simply link our library opening times with the core business hours when the estate office staff based upstairs need to be accessible to the public.
This would not bode well for there being much scope to reallocate hours to enable later weekday evening opening times or the possibility of residents being able to enjoy our library at weekends.
Public library services are, by definition, supposed to be universal and accessible to all members of our community. I’d argue that this is not currently the case at Artizan Street, where working mums and dads and their kids have to settle for very restricted access to our local library.
There is now a campaign that has been started by a Middlesex Street resident aiming to secure more inclusive opening times at Artizan Street. This is a laudable goal and one I am very happy to endorse here.
If it is important to you that your local library should be a community amenity that can be properly enjoyed by everyone, please consider signing this petition online or by contacting local councillor Jason Pritchard on 07834 342479 if you would like to sign but don’t have access to the internet.
Ian McPherson is a City of London
Guide who lives on the Middlesex Street Estate
with his partner and young daughter.