CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Digital age where all of Camden’s library computers are on their last legs

Every single public computer in borough's library is at risk of breakdown

18 October, 2017 — By Richard Osley

EVERY single public computer in Camden’s libraries needs replacing, with top-ranked officials admitting repair teams are struggling to keep them up and running.

The unreliable computers, often used by people with no access to the internet at home, are one of the reasons given for a drop in library use in recent months. The problem continues even though all council staff in the Town Hall’s new high-spec office block in King’s Cross – known as 5PS – have working machines.

Jessica Gibbons, the council’s director of community services, told a cross-party scrutiny committee on Tuesday night: “All the PCs across all the libraries are in need of updating. If you go to any of our libraries you will see probably one computer that isn’t working at any given point in time. We are trying to repair them quickly. I was out at Kilburn library last week. There were IT repair people there, trying to do the repairs there and then. They are struggling to keep up with the issue.”

The problems remain unsolved despite Camden’s attempts to switch to services online, with the council often claiming, with much fanfare, to be leading the digital revolution in the world of local government. Former tech chief and long-serving Labour councillor Theo Blackwell was recently recruited to become London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s £107,000-a-year chief digital officer, after pushing the agenda locally.

Ms Gibbons said that a bid for the funding needed to upgrade the computers was being prepared “in order to bring our PCs up to modern technology so actually our libraries can be the information hubs – the knowledge hubs – we want them to be”. Camden has so far not come up with a figure for the cost of the upgrade. Labour councillor Rishi Madlani told the meeting that those worst affected by Camden’s failure to provide working computers would be the “poorest and most vulnerable”, adding: “This is something [a service] that should be gold-plated.”

He suggested talking to Mr Blackwell in his new job to see whether he could help. “There is a new digital person at City Hall who we could try and get as much money out of, given we do not have deep pockets in Camden,” said Cllr Madlani.

Camden has seen a drop in book lending and visitor numbers this year, although e-book lending has held up. This is part of a national trend, the council said. Other reasons suggested by Camden for the reduced number of visitors include building work at Holborn library.

In a statement supplied by the press office after the meeting, leisure chief Councillor Jonathan Simpson said: “Our libraries are knowledge hubs for all our communities. They are important access points for residents to access the internet and new technologies. For this reason the council is highly committed to our library network, demonstrated through no library closures, significant investments in self-service technology and a refurbishment programme in 2016.”

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