There’s a movie waiting to happen about Kensal Rise Library.  A tale of a community fighting against hopeless odds, faceless bureaucrats, devious local councillors and evasive national politicians.  I see Hugh Grant involved, although whether as a good guy or the hapless minister for libraries, it’s hard to say. The film starts with the busy thriving library as was (the way things are going this will have to be a reconstruction) then a plan is announced for a “Libraries Transformation Project“. Perhaps two users are saying to each other “ooh, that sounds good, the place could do with some new paintwork” but then the awful truth dawns.  A group is formed, alliances are made with others, a hive of activity ensues.  There’s a massive petitions then two court cases (including the first ever public libraries judicial review), celebrities, even more celebrities, all to no avail.  Peppered throughout all this footage would be flashbacks to Mark Twain opening the building and the great hopes of that time. 

Having failed to persuade Brent Council away from its evil ways, our heroes then hatch a desperate plan to prevent the council from taking the books.  Some sort of library watch is formed.  A rapid reaction group of campaigners sits waiting.  Their efforts appear to work.  The library still has books in it.  Then a new Council leader is announced – there is briefly hope – but all is dashed in a shocking early-morning raid on the premises on the very day he takes power.

In a movie, this would be the worst moment – although I can see a joke as one campaigner says to another “well, he is called Cllr Butt“.

But wait! A hero rides over the horizon.  Yes, it turns out that Brent didn’t actually own the building in the first place and that a wealthy Oxford college owns it.  On second thoughts, perhaps Hugh Grant can be its boss.  It says nice things but then, horrors, things get even worse as it turns out the incredibly wealthy Oxford institution is asking for buyers (Fact: the College are currently inviting bids for the sale or lease of the building and as of this week are continuing with their plans to dispose of Kensal Rise Library. In fact, they are starting viewings for interested parties via their agent Cluttons).

 Some brilliant guerilla campaigning can’t hide the hurt

This is the Final Act.  Desperately, there is a petition asking All Souls College, Oxford University, to return Kensal Rise Library to the community. The comments on the petition page make heart-rending reading.  Perhaps all is not lost, perhaps the College lives up to its values, maybe there’s a moment of “what have we done?” on the part of its bosses … and then? … well, we will have to see … but the end is near.

…  or IS IT?
Winning this campaign is now in your hands. We need to reach out to as many friends as we can to grow this campaign and win.” Save Kensal Rise Library.
“As a graduate of Oxford, I am entirely appalled at the idea that a college – most especially All Souls – should take back a gift to the community. The phrase ‘achieve best value’ does NOT lock the College into selling the property for profit, because one of the ‘values’ that All Souls must surely have is education – the very reason why the Victorian Fellows gifted the land in the first place. To say that the only value that the College can now act upon is a financial one does dishonour to All Souls and to Oxford. The Fellows of All Souls enjoy enormous privilege – not least of which is the fact that they are right next to the Bodleian Library; they surely cannot seriously be able to argue that they wish to deny others access to their local library in order that their own lives be made just a bit more comfortable. I urge the Fellows to act with honour and with the same generosity of their open-hearted and noble predecessors. This really is a test of character as much as anything else and the Fellows must rise to meet that test.” David Giles

“I recently encountered an American couple as I was leaving Kensal Rise station who asked me if I knew the location of the ‘Mark Twain library.’ I walked with them to the building, explaining along the way what had befallen our much-loved library at the hands of the philistines currently running Brent Council. After walking around the building and peering through the windows into the empty space that once housed thousands of books, the husband turned to me and said; “How can a country that gave the world Shakespeare, Dickens and Orwell allow such a thing to happen?” Indeed.” James Hogan


“Libraries are a tremendous asset in our communities. In addition to being places of learning and research, they are gathering places, where everyone is welcome and there is no cost to participate,” said Mayor Sam Katz in a media release. “At the City of Winnipeg, we believe that’s something to protect and treasure. This report calls for the replacement of some of our older, cramped library facilities with modern, accessible buildings that can easily accommodate community activities and programming.”

  • Double-edged sword of library closures – Ginger Liberal from Medway.  Book-lover regretfully decides small libraries should close as ebooks etc have made them outdated luxuries.  “It is easy political points to say you are opposed to the closure of a small library and cutting in their funding and staff. It takes a bigger person to make the hard decision (potential vote losing one too) that the Library must be closed. It is a decision that hurts me, something that is against my very soul and beliefs but one I grudgingly support. Not because I want to see the public robbed of a valuable resource but because the public do not realise what they have and no longer feel they need and let’s be honest we do need to save money…I will say this though… show all wings of Government they’re wrong – use your libraries. Lose yourself in a book or nine. Turn the TV off, pick up a book – draw your sword and plunge into Westeros or Middle-earth or whatever takes your fancy. Just go and use them or you will lose them.”

“McAllen is near the southernmost tip of Texas, on the Mexico border. “In a city like McAllen, with cartel violence across the river (less than 10 miles away from the library), I think it’s amazing that the city is devoting resources to a) not only saving a large and conspicuous piece of property from decline and vandalism, but b) diverting those resources into youth and the public trust,” Ramirez writes. “It’s easy to fall into drugs, drinking, and violence when you live on the border. It’s not really easy to find a place to hang out when you’re 14 that’s not the mall, the movies, or Mexico. And a giant library — a cool-looking open space devoted to entertaining the imagination? Well, I think that’s the best counter-move against violence imaginable. And you don’t even have to wait for a computer now.” Where Wal-Mart failed, a library succeeds – Los Angeles Times (USA).

  • World Tonight – BBC Radio 4 (19:00 – ).  Looks at councils that are not fighting the cuts but adapting.  Includes Libraries (Ruislip Library, Hillingdon) 22.37-25.20 minutes in.  “Closures have attracted the most impassioned – and professional – campaigns. Ruislip has doubled in usage, paid for by flats above the library and cafe within it.  However worries about getting private companies like Starbucks involved.


Local News

Mr Pullman said: “It’s dreadfully sad when you hear about libraries closing down. “One more way of children accessing their imagination closing down is such a pity. I’m partly concerned with young mothers. The library is the only place they can get out to — it’s safe and it’s comfortable. They can go for poetry hour and story hour. “It’s very sad.”” Bolton – Top author’s sadness over library closures – Bolton News. 

  • Brent – Planning application to demolish Willesden Green Library withdrawn – Brent and Kilburn Times.  Plans for the re-development of Willesden Green Library Centre, in High Road, Willesden, will now be re-drafted by the developers Galliford Try. The plans have attracted much criticism with campaign groups which have called for the old library, built in 1894 and thatstands in front of the current building, to be preserved. A spokesman for Brent Council said the decision to redraft the plans was to “allow more time to consider the design of the new cultural centre.””
  • Croydon – Upper Norwood Library under threat after constitution change by Conservatives – Putting Croydon First (Labour).  In an act of cutural vandalism the attack on libraries and more specifically the Upper Norwood Joint Library (UNJL) continues as Conservative Croydon Council vote to remove the UNJL from the Council’s constitution, putting the libraries future in jeopardy.”
  • Durham –  Library services face axe over cuts – Chronicle series.  “Durham County Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve proposals that would enable it to make savings of £1.457m while ensuring that all libraries can remain open. The authority is proposing to reduce opening hours at its library buildings and change its mobile library service to help save £159.2m by 2016. Plans for mobile libraries to only call at places at least four miles from a library building have been changed to three miles. But plans to cut opening hours in Consett, Stanley, Chester-le-Street and Peterlee are set to go ahead. Coun Duncan Barnett, an Independent representing Consett, said: “When the county has pledged to improve literacy and numeracy cutting library opening hours seems a retrograde step.”
  • Lambeth – Clapham’s new library building: a space for families in flat land – London Evening Standard.   “This is the Library Building, 136 apartments piled on top of a new library and health centre on the ground floor facing the high street.” … “The large number of residences allows the developer to make enough money to fund the building of the library for Lambeth council, plus a new health centre, and still secure its profit margins. The entire project came in at £35.6million, £6.5 million of which built the library (a budget kept low because it is part of a larger building), and effectively came at no cost to the public purse, apart, of course, from giving the developer the right to build a lot of expensive housing on public land. It’s the kind of public-private partnership that allows councils to maximise the return on their investment” … “The Library Building is quite simply an astonishing addition to the High Street. It is oval in plan, with a continuous ramp, lined with 20,000 books, winding around a 10m-high central atrium.”… “The decision for this library has been to sacrifice studious silence to create a public, community room, addressed at families with young children.”

“I understand that Lewisham’s library staff are being offered triple hourly pay to appear from 7:00am on Monday 23rd July outside Lewisham Central Library to fatten the crowd witnessing the passing of the Olympic torch outside the building.” Lewisham – via email.

  • Redbridge – Public get first glimpse at new-look Ilford Central Library – Ilford Recorder.   £1m refurbishment reopens.  “Children and library members toured the results, including a digital wall projection called the Enchanted Forest, iPads, self-service machines and a coffee shop.”  Same level of staffing but added council duties … “Library opening times in Redbridge were reduced by 32.5 hours per week in April as part of budget savings. When asked if there would be further reductions, Cllr Robin Turbefield, cabinet member for leisure, said: “Not at this current time.” He said the council has made savings in its annual library spend from £5m to £3.5m.”
  • Rotherham – Have a say on library times – Guardian series.   “Consultation drop-in sessions are being held at libraries around Rotherham borough after the council announced it was considering closing some and cutting hours at others.”
  • Southwark – Canada Water LibraryArch Daily.  Some beautiful pictures of this great new library.