Thursday, 3 February 2011

Libraries and Buses

Bus subsidies and library services seem to be high on the list of things to be reduced as a result of the cuts imposed by central government on local government. As usual these services are more important to the poor than to the rich. We comfortably-off can swan around in our cars or even 4x4s, can afford to buy our own books and have enough heated rooms for our children to be able to do their homework in peace and quiet.

Today there are to be nation-wide demonstrations to try and save libraries. I wish them luck, but at the same time have reservations about the quality and nature of the libraries to be preserved. A correspondent in the Guardian this week wrote that "(libraries) offer the rare commodity of peace and quiet as well as a whole world of imagination and information. Older children can safely go there to browse, revise or do homework without background distractions."

I had experience of a local library like that during my recent year in France, but here in Kirklees, my local library has been turned into a one-stop "Information Centre" where, in addition to borrowing books, people come to pay their council tax, rent and other dues, receive advice from counsellors and councillors, and on at least one occasion, a mother an baby group rent the air assunder with a spirited rendition of:" The wheels on the bus go round and round." That occasion apart the noisiest people are normally the staff, who welcome the various participants with loud enthusiasm. Hushed tones are a thing of the past. Yet this mixture of incompatible activities is regarded by our Council as a great success and a model for the rest of the District.

A report out this week advocates that local government should sell off purpose built buildings and concentrate activities in just one or two such "one-stop" centres. Fine if there are separate rooms for separate activities. Otherwise this trend should be resisted. Libraries should be preserved as libraries.

PS A splendid article by David Blanchflower in this week's New Statesman compares the coalition's economic policy to that of Lord Cardigan at the Charge of the Light Brigade. Well worth a read.

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