Saturday, 8 January 2011

Libraries seen as easy touch when it comes to balancing the books

Kensal Rise library in north-west London.
Kensal Rise library in north-west London. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian
An arm slung defensively across his chest, shoulders sagging, Councillor James Powney gave a presentation entitled Transforming Brent's Libraries.
Explaining why the north-west London council was closing six out of 12 was the unenviable job that faced him in a cavernous town hall conference room this week. "It's the easy option – who cares about books?" someone shouted. "This is our heritage, this is our children's future," yelled another woman.
Under a barrage of heckling, Powney said: "If you want a library to stay open, it will not come from beating me up. There is no point in mugging someone with no money." The shouting did not subside.
Brent is one of hundreds of councils planning to close public libraries in an attempt to meet huge cuts imposed by central government. Nearly 400 are threatened with closure, and with half of councils yet to announce their plans, the final number could be as many as 800 – a fifth of all libraries.
One of those earmarked is Kensal Rise library. Housed in a comfortingly solid Victorian building, near a primary school on a quiet residential street, it was opened in 1900 by Mark Twain.
Caroline Bottomley, 49, has been going there for 12 years. "I walk down the road on my way home from the tube, and when I see those brass chandeliers twinkling in the windows, it feels like a homecoming," she said. "It's not just a library, it's such a big symbol of the community."
It is homely, with dark wood parquet floors, old-fashioned bookshelves, hushed voices. Students ploughing through their books, an older woman slowly turning pages of the Daily Mail.
Sara Levy, 39, sat with three-year-old Ella, colouring in Spot the Dog on a computer screen, with three-week-old Ava asleep on her chest. "It's the only local place you can come without spending money," she said. "It's local and friendly. And it's classless."
It is a despair shared throughout the country. Campaigners say such severe measures go too far, given that council funding cuts have been capped at 8.9% this year, and libraries are being seen as a soft touch by councils struggling to meet other legally binding commitments.
Ann John, Labour leader of Brent council, disputes this. "Like any administration, we would not willingly close a library because politically it is too difficult," she said. Legally, it is difficult too. Under the 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act authorities must provide a "comprehensive and efficient" service to all.  But with £37m to cut from its budget this year, the council has little choice, she argues. "We have never seen reductions on this scale before."

Courtsey of Gaurdian

1 comment:

  1. Labour suppose to fight for the services?