Terrible news from Brent as the Council, despite recently making conciliatory noises, used the early hours and a large security and police presence to empty Kensal Rise Library.  By this surprise tactic, compared in the Telegraph to a raid on a crack house, the Council finally succeeded in emptying the library after previous attempts had been rebuffed by local campaigners.  The clearance shows starkly the wide chasm between the council and the local community.  The campaigners were not two years ago an organised force but rather just local library users.  By ignoring their wishes and by heavy-handed actions such as this, Brent Council has bought tremendous negative publicity onto itself.
That Brent Council have now effectively closed over half of their libraries and are willing to go to such measures as witnessed early on Tuesday morning shows how dire the situation has come to in some authorities.  It will deeply embarrass those in the national Labour Party who are trying hard to harness popular dissatisfaction with the Coalition over library cuts and closures.  The Coalition should not enjoy the moment for long either, even though they often use Brent as a stick to beat their opposition with.  That Ed Vaizey and the DCMS will not intervene in Brent is even now a pretty much foregone conclusion, making the Coalition’s commitment to the 1964 Act and its provision for a “comprehensive and efficient” library service highly questionable.  Even in Brent.
Police look on as books are taken out of Kensal Rise Library, 
Photograph courtesy of the Brent Library campaign
Key points
  • 2am.  Around 15 security guards and 12 police accompany Brent’s Property Officer into Kensal Rise Library.
  • 2am to 3am.  Items removed include: all the books, 1930s murals made specifically for the library, plaques commemorating opening of library by Mark Twain, tables, chairs, microwave and other items.
  • Removal of books may trigger automatic reversion of building to All Souls College.  The college has previously made it clear that it did not want the building back and are happy for it be used as a library.
  • Books will go to the six (actually five – Willesden Green Library is closed for conversion into a cultural centre, with its books being put into storage at a cost of £500k) remaining libraries in Brent.  There were twelve libraries in Brent one year ago.
  • Campaigners claim the new leader of Brent Council, Cllr Butt, had misled them in a recent meeting where he promised the murals and some other items would not be removed.
  • Previous attempts by council to remove books had been stopped by the local community.
  • Later on the day, Cllr Butt told campaigners he had not been told of the clearance until a couple of hours before the action took place.  However, he stood by the decision.
  • Coverage of the clearance in the Telegraph, Guardian and London Evening Standard
  • Calls on national Labour Party to condemn actions of its Brent councillors.
Coverage and quotes from the day
“The Council of the Royal Society of Literature, which has consistently opposed the closure of public libraries, is appalled to hear of the action taken by Brent Council in the former Kensal Rise Library in the early hours of this morning. We gather that a Council group, guarded by a dozen policemen, unscrewed from the wall and removed the brass plaque commemorating the opening of the building by Mark Twain in 1900, and the plaque marking the centenary of the same event. This appears to be an act of philistinism bordering on vandalism, and we wonder what the justification for it can be.”
  • Campaigners condemn council after library is emptied at night – Guardian.  “The council has claimed the library’s future is out of its hands as the building has legally reverted to its original landlords: All Souls College, Oxford. But the Save Kensal Rise Library campaigners point to a letter received in March from the college, which says that All Souls “would be happy to consider the library being kept open”, as proposed in their business plan.” Council says “”On the advice of the police, the council removed its property from the building in the early hours of the morning,” the spokesman said. “We will now hand the keys back to All Souls College. The books and other materials will be sorted and distributed amongst the council’s six libraries for the use of all Brent residents. The council has committed to contacting All Souls College on behalf of the Friends of Kensal Rise Library to enable discussion between the two parties.””

“Dear Cllr Muhammed Butt, One day, I hope, politicians will be in power who wish to serve, enable and inspire the community who they represent. Instead of the politicking, conniving and self-regarding politicians we appear to have now. Shame on you for your behaviour over Kensal Rise library.The name of the Labour Party in relation to this issue is poison with everybody who I know in this area.” Caroline Bottomley, Brent library user.

“The playwright Michael Frayn also condemned the move. “They took the books out and the plaque down? So the library is now an unlibrary, in the way that people became unpersons in the darkest days of the Soviet Union. I hope they took the titles of the books off as well. Removing unbooks from an unlibrary – who could possibly object?” The biographer Sir Michael Holroyd said: “The wanton destruction of the Kensal Rise Library – its books removed, its history erased – is a gross act of philistinism which will bring lasting shame to all involved.”

  • Council accused of “deceit” over stripping disputed library of books – Telegraph.  “Whatever the reason, a council was taking no chances when it came to finally closing down a local library. With a show of force usually reserved for clearing crack houses and illegal gipsy camps, they raided the building at 2am with dozens of police and security guards – and removed all the books.” … ““We had a meeting last week where Mo Butt promised not to remove the murals and furniture until we had met All Souls. “It just seems super-vindictive and super-nasty. It’s pretty deceitful really. It just seems like going back on what he said — that he wanted to listen to us and engage with us. “He must have known it was going to happen.””
  • “Cowardly” council strips library in the small hours – Harrow Observer. 
  • “Cowardly” midnight raid on Kensal Rise library – Bookseller.   

“The stripping of Kensal Rise Library at 3 am, with police presence, in spite of promises from Brent Council, is a matter of cultural shame.” Terence Blacker.

  • Kensal Rise Library stripped of books overnight – Preston Library Campaign.  “na stunning act of bad faith, Mohammed Butt’s council snuck into Kensal Rise library in the dead of night and stripped it bare.  It was the last of the six to get the “Brent Treatment”, and the building will now be handed back to All Souls College, Oxford, probably to be sold.”
  • Letter to Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader – Alan Gibbons.  “In March Shadow Culture Minister Dan Jarvis addressed the Speak Up for Libraries rally. He directed a question at Ed Vaizey, the Minister in charge of libraries, asking him whether he was a champion of libraries. Many in the audience will have hoped the Labour Party would offer an alternative to the coalition government’s savaging of the public library service. If you are to credibly claim to truly stand up for libraries you must act now and condemn the actions of the Labour council in Brent.”

This morning between 2 and 3am Richard Barrett, Brent’s Property Officer, raided and stripped Kensal Rise Library. About 15 workers took the books from the library and also took the murals painted in the 1930’s specifically for the library along with all the plaques commemorating the library’s opening by Mark Twain. They took tables and chairs and other assorted objects including a microwave and a box of sticky tape.They were assisted in this action by about 12 police officers.” …  “Cllr Mo Butt said he wanted to listen to the community, engage with them. This is how he listens. By taking this action he has jeopardised the ability of this community to run this library. We may be finished with Brent council but our campaign continues. We will not let their cowardly, middle of the night plundering defeat us. Cllr Butt’s words to us are worse than meaningless.” “We will not let Brent Council’s cowardly, middle of the night plundering defeat us” – Wembley Matters.

Protest posters about Kensal Rise Library
Image courtesy of  the Brent library campaign

Other news

49 Up(15:00 to 16:40 ) An interview with Lynn Johnson, the children’s librarian featured in the UP docus, in it she talks about her passion for libraries and working with children, she also talks about cuts.  The mobile library she worked in was closed down.   She then moved to Bethnal Green Library.

  • Are QR codes fab or fad? Doesn’t matter – Library marketing toolkit.   it’s not how good / bad something is, it’s how much our users engage with it. Whether you, as an information professional, love or hate QR codes is really neither here nor there – if the stats say your patrons like ’em, you should be using them, and if the stats say your users are indifferent to ’em, then park the whole idea, stop flogging the dead horse, and come back in a year’s time to see if the market penetration is any deeper.”
  • Despite funding cuts, library usage increasing – London Community News (Canada).   ““We face increasing demand and a tightening of fiscal resources, which is a recipe for a challenging operating environment,” he said. “We work hard with our funders to help them recognize that in a challenging economy, a library is a place to invest, not to cut because people rely on our services more when they have nowhere else to go.””
  • Government delay on ebook royalties labelled “unlawful” –  “According to Nicola Solomon at the Society of Authors, the delay to include audiobooks and ebooks in Public Lending Right legislation which gives authors royalty payments each time their work is borrowed from a library could well be breaching the law. As part of the Digital Economy Act 2010 it was expected that ebooks would be included in the PLR scheme which awards a few pence to authors up to a set maximum of £6,600.”  Ed Vaizey said he may review position if funds become available.  

“Vaizey should be dragged screaming into the realisation that this is the second decade of the 21st century, not the Grub Street of Victorian times.”

  • Guest post #11: Five questions from the Carnegie UK Trust – Envisioning the library of the future (Arts Council England).  Trust says that people say they value libraries but often don’t use them.  Questions are (1) how the value of libraries should be measured, (2) how libraries will respond to cuts in funding and changes in technology, (3) how the service is delivered [the Trust appears open to volunteer-run libraries], (4) whether existing library buildings are the right answer and whether they are all still needed (5) the need for stronger leadership/direction/vision.  Tim Coates has responded to article calling it “complete rubbish”. 
  • “Just great bookselling” Bilbary’s simple vision, big ambition – Publishing Perspectives (USA). “Bilbary will also carry reviews, as well as recommendations and comment from booksellers and teachers and experts in their field. It has a library which has a link on the homepage that takes browsers to an interactive illustration of an old, small town library. “We want people to have fun here,” says Coates. “This is somewhere they can go for a good rummage around, just as in a physical library. You enter through some swing doors and we’ll have things like a science room where you can see the books being converted into digital in pickle jars. We’ll even have a cat on the rocking chair outside. Jo Budler at the State Library of Kansas [which has recently signed a deal with Bilbary] said ‘librarians have a great affinity with cats’.” Users of the State Library of Kansas who do not want to wait for one of the handful of digital files provided by Overdrive are given the option to buy a title, with a percentage of the revenue going back to the library.”
  • Libraries to become Children’s University “learning destinations” – via Alan Gibbons.  “The Reading Agency’s “Summer Reading Challenge”, which was taken up by over three quarters of a million children last year, is to become a Children’s University nationally validated learning activity. This means that this Summer for the first time all libraries in the British Isles which take part in the Challenge will become recognised Children’s University ‘Learning Destinations’.”
  • Survey: should libraries sell E-books? – Publishing Perspectives (USA).   “Having captured my interest, wouldn’t it have made sense for the library to have tried to sell me a copy of the book? They already have a record of my name, address, card number and other pertinent information. They have the database of books. How hard could it be? At a time when enabling consumers to act on impulse is a key to winning sales, it seems like a lost sales opportunity — one libraries would do well to capitalize on, especially considering the economy.”.  Most votes so far are in favour of libraries selling ebooks.
  • Warning over digital archive “black hole” – BBC.  “The National Library of Scotland said online and social media coverage from the past 20 years was disappearing. It has urged the UK government to act swiftly on proposals to give libraries the legal right to collect and store electronic publications.”
  • Why ten years? – Good Library Blog.  Tim Coates argues with the Arts Council approach of looking at where libraries should be in ten years time on the grounds that there are other far more pressing issues and that technological change would have made any discussion meaningless anyway.  “Public libraries need to concentrate on the here and now- which means the current budget year which is now in progress and the next budget round, starting in September.. Everything else is dreamy nonsense.”


Local News

“The extra half million, a five fold increase on the original figure, is on a par with the £500,000 that will be spent putting Willesden Green’s books into storage (as opposed to making them available for users at exisitng libraries). That £1 million could have kept all six closed libraries going for several more years. Add this to another £3 million being spent to replace the Town Hall library, it is clear that Brent is NOT facing the budgetary pressures it has been pleading in court.”

  • Croydon – Council “broke the law” over Upper Norwood Library, claim campaigners – This is Croydon Today.  “Croydon has been holding a consultation over the library’s future. But the decision to take down its own website for “scheduled maintenance work” on the last day of that consultation has been slammed by campaigners.” … “Croydon’s Labour leader Tony Newman said: “We have advice that Croydon cannot unilaterally abandon the joint agreement and we have been told by Lambeth Council that this council has acted illegally.””
  • North Somerset – Free books for youngsters – Mercury 24.  “National Bookstart Week sees free books given out to youngsters before they start school in an effort to get them reading. Special story and rhyme times will be held by libraries from June 11-17 for pre-school children. The Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) will also be holding its Make a Noise in Libraries fortnight from June 11-24 to raise awareness of books available in formats for those with sight loss.”
  • Surrey – Response to Mr Deakins – Surrey Libraries Action Movement.   Letter explaining campaigners’ views on why it has taken legal action against the council and also it’s approach to volunteers. Worth reading.
  • Wakefield – Vow to save village library – Express series.   “Campaigners in Ackworth have vowed to save their library – as a decision still awaits on the future of many of the district’s sites. The Save Ackworth Library group has pledged to fight proposals – which are due to be considered by Wakefield Council in July – to withdraw funding from the village library.”