Tuesday, 8 February 2011

I go on a sit-in!

"The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man" 
 T.S. Eliot
"My education was the library. I had to read indiscriminately and all the time, with my eyes hanging out"
- Dylan Thomas

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library" - Jorge Luis Borges 
"A library is a token of, nay, a trophy of grace" - Martin Luther 
I imagine our local county councillors, Mr Keith Mitchell, leader of the council and responsible for, inter al, community leadership, and Ms Judy Heathcoat, responsible for, inter al, libraries, adult education and social inclusion would say to these great men, "Yer wha'?" More specifically, perhaps they'd say: 
"Mr Eliot, I don't get your drift any more than I understand your poetry - what I've read of it."
"Pipe down, Mr Thomas; in our new world you'd be in danger of a Criminal Behaviour Order (new name for Asbo) the way you carried on."
"Senor Borges, there's no such thing as Paradise, but even if there were, we wouldn't have books, just Sky TV."
"Herr Luther, we do not live in a time of grace!"

I say this because sadly they've announced that our local library is up for the chop, and one suspects that no amount of rational argument or local pressure will change their minds. It is of course solely an economy measure. But as Dame Elisabeth Hoodless rather awkwardly pointed out - and she's not exactly a young radical, aged 69, and retiring as Head of Community Service Volunteers after 36 years - it is at odds with the PM's dream of the Big Society. "Once you close a library there is nowhere for a volunteer to help.... Few people want to be responsible for the library. Most people want to feel there's an expert on the premises. They are quite happy to issue and re-shelve the books, but taking the final responsibility is a bit more than most people want to do."

So I buzzed myself off the the Read-In on Saturday morning at Grove Library and signed to petition. Its closure does seem an odd proposal at a time of impending local development. Mr Mitchell, a hale and hearty fellow, tells us we can just pop on the bus to Wantage and use the library there. It will cost you nothing after 9 am, he tells us, if you're over 60. But what about if you're a mum or dad with young kids? What if you're unemployed as well? And what about if you're disabled or in a wheelchair, Councillor? Just "take the bus"?

When we moved here, one of our first outings was to the Library. Being Grove, getting there was straightforward and on the flat. The library itself was very disabled friendly. Here was one expedition I could easily make on my own - a little bit of independent living. While there on Saturday, I was reminded of the benefits for Disabled Borrowers, such as borrowing books, most dvds, audio books, music cds and language courses free of charge. Reserving books etc is cheaper; and you don't get fined if you overrun. A great facility for the disabled! I don't know how many disabled live in Grove. I read somewhere that over one in ten of the working population are disabled - and obviously the proportion among the elderly will be higher. The 2001 census gave Grove's population as 7845. 

There are plans to build 2,500 new homes here. The library's not huge, as you can see, but without doubt it's both an amenity for the present and an investment for the future. Closure would be both myopic and philistine. Once it was closed and bulldozed to the ground, like the building next door, would a new one ever be opened for Grove - no longer 'village', but a town-size? What do you reckon?


  1. It sounds to me like another example of political incompetence based on - could it be statistics! I hear of so many "so called" solutions to what are basically cost cutting measures it is difficult to know where to start.

    In my experience of wandering around the country (as I sometimes do) one of the best places to seek reliable information and facts is the local library.

    I hear that some libraries in Sheffield are lined up for closure, and guess what they seem to be in areas where they are in my opinion (for what it is worth) most needed. Areas where there are poor levels of literacy, where many households do not have a good selection of books to read and where there may in terms of the Big Society debate be many potential volunteers in future years.

    It seems to me that some very short-sighted decisions are made by people who are well able to travel independently under their own steam to a good library.

    Another example of how decisions are made purely on the basis of cost rather than need.


  2. This is, I know, an over-simplification - but if you have someone being paid, say, £1million a year to run an organisation and you say to him - "We've got to economise!" he doesn't say (if he's human) "Right, I'll halve my salary" - he says "Oh, dear - we'll have to close the outfit". Mr Cameron seems to have the idea "why don't Michael & Brian and a few of their friends get together and run it?" - this as I understand it is the Big Society in action. Years ago it was quite usual for people to do good works without thought of reward - except....oh, well, I won't go into that.

  3. In our area library opening hours are being cut in a lot of places as an alternative to actually closing any branches, in the hope that, in the future, they may be able to open for longer hours again. If cuts have to be made that seems quite a sensible way of doing it, although it seems a terribly sad thing to economise on.

  4. Here's a rather nice tweet on the subject today:
    "You can bet George Osborne's nearest library won't be shut. Mainly because it's in the east wing of his house next to the drawing room".

  5. I agree it is shortsighted to close libraries, but while thinking of what people might do when they close, I remembered sometime ago we were out for a walk passing through a small village and noticed in a couple of places a book wrapped in a plastic bag on a garden wall. apparently the locals share books this way - they can 'borrow' a book if they put another in its place. Our church has a large bookshelf that people bring books to and others are free to take.

  6. Maybe the people of Grove could copy Stony Stratford and empty the library?