Brent Council, infamous for its high-handed library closures, has a new Leader in Muhammed Butt tonight.  One of his first actions was stopping, after being made aware of the protest outside it, the attempted clearance of Kensal Rise Library. This had started early this morning (two reports say 7.30am, one 8.30am) on the old leader, Ann John’s, last day of office.  The Council deny that this was a move to prevent Mr Butt from reversing her decision to close libraries.  The timing was apparently a coincidence.  The fact that a crowd of 50 people gathered to stop the unannounced clearance, even linking arms, shows all too well how important libraries are to their community and the wisdom of such a u-turn.  It is too early to see if the change in person at the top represents a change in the Council’s embarrassing (not least for the newly energetic and encouraging stance of the national Labour Party) attitude to libraries but it is at least a hopeful sign.  That it is no more than a sign is shown by the attitude of the new leader in Oxfordshire who has gone on record as saying that the move to partly staff half of the libraries in that county with volunteers will continue on his watch.

News

“CILIP must, surely, have foreseen that removing the policy in 2010 would open the floodgates. With one’s enemy a short distance from the gates it was wrong to have deliberately left them ajar — making it well nigh impossible to close them against the forces pressing up upon their feebly-constructed barricades in 2012. The introduction of a two-tier, postcode lottery library service is now well under way. This would seem to have been materially assisted by CILIP and the SCL going down the route of, at best, pragmatism and, at worst, compromise and appeasement. Frontline and junior management jobs have been acknowledged as expendable, whilst those fortunate enough to have secure positions in senior posts will reign over a service that has been mutilated beyond recognition. The production of a “discussion document” of this nature implies that the de-professionalisation of the service is not anathema to CILIP, nor to the SCL, and that their defence of the library service cannot be described admirable or robust. Why is a non-member commenting in this manner ? Because the service people rely on is in crisis.” Shirley Burnham.

I totally agree with Shirley. CILIP and the SCL should have come out with a strong message that they would under no circumstances support the replacement of paid staff with volunteers and the replacement of a comprehensive and efficient statutory service with a network of fragmented ‘community libraries'” Alan Wylie.

  • Selling the family silver (or a day at an Arts Council libraries consultation workshop) – Stop the privatization of public libraries.  Campaigner dismayed at the makeup of the audience for the workshop and for the pro-volunteering and pro-divesting viewpoint of some of the delegates … causing him to walk out.  “My group had Julie Hall, Service Development Manager, Information and Heritage, Lewisham, Darren Taylor, he of the Eco Computer Systems Lewisham community libraries fame, a Camden Campaigner, a Volunteer Coordinator and someone else to do with volunteering! The discussion got rather heated when the Camden campaigner started to taunt the Lewisham contingent and when I said to the Volunteer Coordinator “how do you think that I feel having built up 20+ years of knowledge and skills only to be told that a volunteer can do my job”, she said “that’s what I thought when I took up the challenge, am I supposed to do all this” When I brought up the issues of data protection, customer service, stock selection, etc I was told that “all these things can be easily learnt or overcome”!”
  • Society of Authors urges Gibb to make school libraries statutory – BookSeller.   “The Society of Authors has written to schools minister Nick Gibb urging him to support children’s literacy by making primary and secondary school libraries a statutory requirement. SoA general secretary Nicola Solomon told Gibb that over the past decade school libraries and library services had been “undervalued and neglected” and that the absence of school libraries and trained librarians was “deplorable”. Citing “proven links” between reading and attainment, Solomon said: “It is our belief that this needs to change and that all primary and secondary schools should be required by law to have a library, and dedicated librarians should be compulsory in secondary school and all but the smallest primary schools.”

Local News

  • Brent – What did for Ann John? – Wembley Matters.  “As the dust settles on the Brent Council leadership changes it is worth reflecting on the reasons behind the ousting of Ann John and what it means for the future. The libraries issue, both the closures and the redevelopment of the Willesden Green Centre, has been the most contentious aspect of Council policy. The presentation as ‘transformation’ rather than closure; the labelling of opponents as self-interested, unrepresentative and middle class; the ignoring of petitions; the suggestion that cheap books were readily available at Tesco; all riled local citizens and the energetic and resourceful campaigners kept the issue in the local press and crucially on the national media agenda. Nationally, Brent Labour’s library policy became an embarrassment for the Labour leadership …”.  However, her successor may be little different.
    • Wembley Matters: What did for Ann John? – Preston Library Campaign. 
    • Lobby the Brent Executive: 6.15pm Brent Town Hall – Preston Library Campaign.  “This Monday – 21 May – Brent’s Executive will consider a ‘Progress Report’ on the implementation of the Libraries Transformation Project (library closures to you and me). This remarkable report (which you can read on Brent’s website) barely mentions the huge drop in visits to Brent’s libraries since last October. It barely mentions the huge drop in books issued by Brent’s libraries. It does claim that 46% of the users of the closed libraries have moved to other libraries, but doesn’t reach the obvious conclusion – namely that the other 54%, many thousands of people, have been deprived of their library service.”
    • New Brent leader is urged to reverse library closuresLondon Evening Standard.  “Mr Butt, who ousted the former leader by two votes at the local Labour Party’s annual meeting, refused to be drawn on his plans for the remaining libraries. But he said: “I’ve lived in Brent all my life and with all the cuts from central government I thought having a fresh approach would help us to deliver services we should be delivering for all of Brent.””
    • Protest success as council stops library clearance – Harrow Observer.   “A peaceful protest outside a local library successfully halted the council’s plan to strip the building of its treasured books. More than 50 people gathered outside Kensal Rise Library today after council workers turned up with security staff to empty the building of its stock.”
    • Council deny claims Kensal Rise library was stripped of its boks today to prevent it from being reopened – Brent and Kilburn Times.   “Claims that attempts to strip an axed library branch of it books was carried out today to stop the new council leader from reversing the decision has been denied.”
    • MP “disappointment” at clearing of library stock – Harrow Observer.   “Sarah Teather, MP for Brent Central, has issued a statement this afternoon as a crowd of more than 50 people carry out a peaceful protest outside the library. She said: “This is another sad day for Brents libraries. Campaigners have tried to work with officials to keep Kensal Rise library open, but have been ignored at every turn. “They (Labour leaders) must stop removing books immediately and talk to campaigners and local residents before its too late.Councillor Butt has to get a grip of this matter if he wants to show that he can make a difference as leader of the council.””
    • Kensal Rise campaigners barricade doors – BookSeller.  “Around 50 campaigners have gathered outside the Brent library and prevented eight council workers accompanied by Brent’s head of libraries Sue Mackenzie, from taking the boxes of books, according to a report in the Guardian.
    • Protesters barricade doors of Kensal Rise library in bid to stop the council clearing shelves of books – Independent.   “Council officers moved in at around 8:30 this morning to begin the job of clearing Kensal Rise Library…And old sign posted in the window reads “the library will remain closed in the morning for a staff meeting and will reopen at 2pm. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
    • New leader of Brent Council unaware that Kensal Rise library would be stripped of its contents today – Brent & Kilburn Times.   “The new leader of the council has admitted that he had no idea Kensal Rise library was going to be stripped of its contents this morning (Wednesday). Cllr Muhammed Butt, who will step into the role formally this evening, told the Times he is trying to find out ‘exactly what is going on’ following today’s developments.”
    • Crowd gathers outside library as workers remove books – Harrow Observer.   “The crowd gathered outside Kensal Rise Library this morning, and are still watching the team of council staff strip the closed library. The staff are being supported by security guards. Campaigners are standing arm-in-arm outside the building in an attempt to stop the process and express their discontent at the latest move.”
    • Campaigners block council’s efforts to remove books from Kensal Rise Library – Guardian.  “One campaigner, local resident Richard Cross, described the council’s behaviour as “needlessly destructive”. The 44-year-old lawyer added: “It’s the action of an attitude of vendetta by the outgoing regime at Brent council. They cannot justify this by claiming lack of funds because we have said we’ll run it as a voluntary library and open it up for the community at no cost to the taxpayer.”

 “Council workers arrived at Kensal Rise Library this morning to clear the books, marking the end of local people’s efforts to save it from the cuts. Campaigners are furious. Jodie Gramigni, a local resident, explains what has happened.”.  This done on the last day of Ann John’s control of the Council.” Kensal library a ransacking ahead of Butt’s inauguration – Preston Library Campaign. 

  • Croydon – “Book Token” takes one in the Eye on library closures – Inside Croydon.   “The Philistines running our council have sounded the death knell for more than a century of learning and reading at Upper Norwood Joint Library with this brief paragraph in their Annual General Meeting papers which has just been posted on the Croydon Council website: 4.2.10 Upper Norwood Joint Library (article 11 schedule1) The Agreement with Lambeth Council establishing this joint committee has been terminated and so there is no longer a requirement to appoint to this joint committee. This is all despite the overwhelming and widespread public opposition to the library’s closure, with a campaign meeting even planned for tonight. And it is all in spite of Councillor Sara Bashford and Gavin Barwell MP‘s solemn public promises that no Croydon libraries will be closed.“.  Includes full text of Library News article in the Private Eye on the decision.
  • Hampshire – Consultation starts on plan to move Winchester library into discovery centre – Romsey Advertiser.   “People are being asked for their views on moving Stanmore library in Winchester to a community centre. As previously reported, the county council is planning to close the library in Wavell Way to save £35,000 a year.” … “The branch in the middle of a council estate would be the first of the council’s 53 libraries to close under budget cuts aimed at saving £450,000. North Baddesley library is also threatened with closure while other libraries across the county had opening hours reduced.”
  • Hertfordshire – Talking books service replaced – Review.  “Politicians have given the go-ahead to a proposal to replace a free service providing visually-impaired residents with talking books with a subscription to a charity library. At a meeting of Hertfordshire County Council’s cabinet on Monday, members voted unanimously to scrap Cassettes for Blind People (CfBP) in favour of a similar service operated by the Royal National Institute for the Blind.”
  • Lincolnshire – Library proposals are a “tragedy” – Skegness Standard.   “Skegness authors William Hussey and Margaret Dickinson have both condemned Lincolnshire County Council’s money saving suggestion threatening up to 260 jobs, which they fear represent a backward step for society with far reaching adverse consequences that will be hard to reverse.”
“Libraries have always been a great resource for people to gain access to knowledge, entertainment and education and it would be a tragedy if that was diminished in any way. With the best will in the world volunteers are not going to be able to offer the same service trained librarians can offer,” she said. As regular library users for research purposes, both authors have praised the expert assistance they receive from librarians in Skegness and would hate to see any of those employees lose their jobs to be replaced with an inferior service.”

  • Northumberland – New library helps double the number of visitors – Berwick Advertiser.  Wooler’s new library, which is blazing a trail in council and community partnership, will be officially opened on May 17 at its new home in Padgepool Place. Since the library was moved to a new extension in the Cheviot Centre in November, the number of book loans has risen 20 per cent, visitor numbers have increased by 100 per cent and membership is up 65 per cent compared to the same period last year. Library opening hours have tripled – instead of opening just two days a week it now opens six days in winter and seven days in summer.”
  • Oxfordshire – New county leader: libraries – Oxford Times.   “There will be no u-turn on plans to staff Oxfordshire’s libraries with volunteers, Mr Hudspeth warned. Almost half of the council’s libraries will be partly staffed with volunteers, but earlier this month County Hall was unable to say how many volunteers had so far come forward. Mr Hudspeth said: “If you look at a lot of things that go on in libraries there are already a lot of volunteers running services, including young children’s reading clubs, silver surfers clubs and community projects. It is not as if nothing is happening in libraries at the moment. “But I cannot see all libraries being manned by volunteers – that is not in the plans – and the underlying thing is that we are not closing any libraries in Oxfordshire.””