Co-located library downside: a trip to a Birmingham combined clinic/library


One of the difficulties in getting a true handle on what is going on in the country is the danger of having to rely too much on press releases and other articles which often have a vested interest in presenting the reality as glossily as possible.  This is why it is so useful sometimes to get individual testimony on the reality on the ground.  This, from “shambrarian” John Kirriemuir, struck me as a particularly honest and acute example.

“Got lost. Found myself in a self-service “library” inside NHS clinic in Sparkhill or Sparkbrook. It’s, well, a bit pathetic really. Signs saying “community” this and “community” that but it’s like the day after the apocalypse, don’t see any community. A “Library Self Service” machine: under it, a stack of “Be a Library Volunteer” cards. There is one other library user here: they are browsing “Adult Fiction”, which seems to be mainly Colin Dexter books. The carpet appears to have a large dried blood stain in the middle (in fairness, this is inside an NHS clinic).

A sign describes “Anti Social Use of Computers”. There is no-one here to police this. There is a phone number on the sign, though. “Please ensure you bring your own earplugs or you can purchase them at reception for £1 from the security guard on duty”. Someone has just walked past – it’s practically in the corridor – with some kind of head wound. Distracting. Adult erotica books in children’s section. Putting them in their proper place as there’s no librarian – even a volunteer – here doing that.

Someone spent a lot of time doing the many laminated signs in this … “library”. Someone who Randomly capitalises Letters and WOrDS. Wish I had camera. There’s a weird monitoring set-up here with security cameras and angled mirrors. Uncomfortably claustrophobic. “Health Reception” opposite are spending their time staring over here. May ask them a library-oriented question or two. Me: “Is there a dictionary in the library?” Receptionist: “Why?” Me: “Need to look up a word.” Receptionist: “Why do you want to do that?” Me: “Um, so I know what it means.” Receptionist: “I see you are using the computer. Google it.” Me: <internally screaming. Receptionists are now whispering, watching me on reflective mirror. Think they’ve tagged me as potential troublemaker. Or they’re bored.

There is “therapy art work” (according to sign) above my head. It appears to be some kind of abstract green painting with dripping blood. There’s also a massive red alarm type light on the wall. I seriously have to come back to this place with a camera. Distant screaming from somewhere else in the building. The joys of putting “libraries” inside NHS buildings. Still no volunteer. Good thing I have IT, net skills and no information needs. Otherwise this place would be next to useless. Except those aren’t librarians. Those are NHS receptionists, over the corridor.

Person at the PC next to me is swearing loudly as what I presume their favourite porn site is blocked. Actually on none of these signs is anything about not accessing porn or other risque material. So long as you keep the sound down, presumably. Such a gap, a Grand Canyon, of difference between the Library of Birmingham and resource-barren volunteer “libraries”. f this is the future of no-librarian, volunteer-based low-resourced public “libraries”, then the future sucks”

John Kirriemuir, adapted from Twitter 2nd Novermber 2013

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