BOOK lending in libraries has plunged by up to 84 per cent since Lewisham Council handed over control earlier this year, figures show.

The statistics have dismayed campaigners who fought to stop the council giving up the facilities in Blackheath Village, Crofton Park, Grove Park, New Cross and Sydenham.

Four of the libraries were handed over to community organisations in May, with New Cross's future left in the balance.

And according to figures in a council Healthier Communities Selct Committee report, the fall in visits and lending at those libraries, compared to the previous year, have been enormous.

Library campaigner Pat Richardson said: "The figures are atrocious really.

“The real worry is that the community libraries are showing very low figures, but the numbers show they're not using Lewisham's other libraries instead.”

She added: “They'll close if this carries on.

“There's no point in Lewisham putting even a minimum amount of money in for so few book issues.”

But in their report council officers blame reorganisation of staff and the introduction of new technology for the library service.

They conclude: “The service remains confident that the next year will see a significant improvement in delivery once the transformation of the service is fully embedded."

Blackheath Village

Figures from June to October show a 94 per cent fall in visits to 2,331 and only 4,265 books issued - a 83 per cent drop compared to 2010, though June and July saw virtually no visitors, skewing the results.

The library will be based in Age Exchange's new reminiscence centre when it is completed next October, but in the meantime, it is in the tiny Bakehouse building.

The council has awarded them a £200,000 grant to help facilitate that move.

Sir Ian Mills from Age Exchange, who claimed visits had risen in November, said: “We’re determined to get the figures up.

“We’ve very much in transition. It’s the beginning of what’s going to be an investment which will see us have at least as good a library as we’ve had before.”

New Cross

This facility, which held a fundraising Christmas fair at the weekend, is now run temporarily by volunteers as the People's Library, four days a week, with the backing of the Bold Vision organisation.

From June to October visits dropped by 71 per cent to 6,488 compared to the previous year, though October itself showed an increase in numbers from 2010.

Issues fell by 84 per cent to 2,344 but library worker Kathy Dunbar said this was down to delays in implementing the council’s computer systems.

She said: “The figures will start to improve by January. We know the system we had wasn't working right.”

Eco Computer Systems

Eco took over three of the libraries back in May.

Figures show lending fell from June to October compared to the previous year to 16,466 - a 45 per cent drop - at Crofton Park, 70 per cent at Grove Park where just 5,316 books were issued and 66 per cent at Sydenham, which saw only 6,976 issues.

Visitors also plummeted during the same period with a 40 per cent drop to 21,904 at Crofton Park and 12,130 - a 36 per cent fall at Grove Park.

Sydenham visits fell by 26 per cent to 20,999, though statistics show a marked improvement in October.

Darren Taylor from Eco blamed technical glitches and said that many people originally assumed the libraries had shut.

He said: "Visitor figures are now going back up so what normally follows is that issue figures will also rise.

"People should be judging us a year after we've taken over. Let's look at the figures in March."