This may be the new age of Kindle and Amazon but such developments have largely passed unnoticed by my allotment pals. Many of them are regular users of the local library and there are several reasons for this. They like the feel of a book in their hands, and many like the sensation of reading where others have read. Some can’t afford to buy books, and those who can prefer to experience the opening chapters before committing themselves. And , most importantly of all, most regularly search for non-fiction offering advice on anything from keeping livestock to joinery, books that one consults and returns rather than retains.
For them, and millions of others across the country, the news that a landmark legal challenge to a council’s decision to close half its libraries has failed is very bad news indeed. The case in question was focussed on Brent after the council there announced its intentions to close the libraries, including one, Kensal Rise, opened by Mark Twain in 1900. With the help of people like Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman and the Pet Shop Boys, a pressure group there raised funds to apply for a judicial review of the decision, saying the council had not properly assessed certain needs, thus breaching the Equalities Act and failing to comply with its duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museum Acts.
The arguments were rejecetd by Mr Justice Ouseley, hearing the case, who refused a judicial review. Within two hours of the pronouncement Brent Council boarded up half of its libraries and dismissed the staff. The result will be that for many residents a visit to a library will now involve a journey by car or public transport. For the elderly that probably spells the end of their regular treat, a local call to spend a leisurely hour or so selecting next week’s entertainment.
But it is not only the elderly who value local libraries. Young mums do too, especially those who can’t afford to buy an unending series of toddlers books, each of which becomes redundant as the months of early development pass. Many young people access libraries too, and there have been a number of initiatives over the past year or so aimed at encouraging reading. And many retired, but not elderly, folk also find browsing a pleasant pastime.
Most libraries now offer regular lectures on a wide range of subjects including local history, and most provide controlled internet access. They are in many ways the centre of local communities and many a student has reason to be grateful for the help and advice provided by staff, most of whom always strike me as being uniquely helpful in an age where service standards continue to plummet.
But one statistic stands out above all overs. Every survey of users shows that women are the major users of libraries. And it is women who, as reported in a recent blog, are deserting the coalition parties in droves. Opinion polls show that they believe that whilst cuts are necessary, it is men who are dominating the decision making and determining priorities. And most of the men are from the ranks of those with deep pockets, no name no Osbornes.
The result is that we see mega-costly projects like high-speed rail being nodded through whilst low cost facilities like libraries and local clinics are closed down. So far as town halls are concerned the public watches open-mouthed as executives are paid more than the prime minister and endless beanos are organised with so-called twin-towns. At national level the stories of the extravagent lifestyle of people like Fox and his friend Werrity continue to remind everyone that ours is becoming a society of the haves and have-nots. Admittedly Fox has now gone but he is still said to have done a great job as Cameron does his latest u-turn
Following this depressing ruling we can expect to see the shutters go up on libraries right across the land. An inexpensive but central part of every community will be lost for ever. Politicians are not noted for their common sense – you need look no further than Andrew Lansley for proof of that – and they are rushing toward a total alienation of large swathes of the female vote in the manner of lemmings heading for the cliff.
But who cares about politicians? No one. But many care for the presence of their local library and many will look back on Brent as the place where the strange death of English literacy and community spirit was triggered.
Some once said that a good book is a constant companion. It seems that in the eyes of those who rule over us a Werrity is even better!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!