A New Chapter in Libraries

A New Chapter in Libraries
Posted 22 December 2014 by Philip Ardagh

With Book Trust's offices closed on Monday 29th, this will be my last blog of 2014 and, though I could fill it with ho-ho-ho, I want to come back to a subject very close to my heart: public libraries. This has been another very tough year for libraries, with many closures, hours cut or conversion into volunteer-run not-really-libraries libraries. It's also a very tough time for people having to balance the books and there are no obvious quick-fix solutions but, time and time again, it's been shown that destroying libraries is a false economy. A better educated - well read - population puts less strain on the public purse.

 

But let's end the year with a little eavesdropping:

 

We need a new library, John.

A new library? But aren't other authorities closing libraries, cutting hours or handing them over to volunteers?

Precisely. Here's our chance to shine. The central library's not fit for purpose. Let's build a centre of excellence to take its place.

Centre of Excellence? I like the sound of that. Let me write it down… But how do we fund it?

The old central library is a prime piece of real estate. It would make excellent apartments.

You mean flats?

The amount they'll cost, they'll be apartments, I assure you.

But will that be enough?

No, we'll probably have to close a few of the community libraries. Or cut their hours and replace staff with volunteers. The new library will be able to absorb some of them.

Some?

Some.

But what about the local communities they serve?

People can get on the bus and use the new centre of excellence.

Or buses.

I'm sorry?

They may need to catch more than one bus to get into the centre of town.

Your point being?

What if they're elderly?

They'll travel free.

But local libraries serve local communities -

This new library will have one hundred thousand books for loan, a rare books and photo archive, a local history archive, computer rooms, an e-library, study areas, events spaces, dedicated children's zone -

What's that?

I'm not sure yet… a business centre, gallery, research department! You hear the phrase 'state of the art' being bandied about but this really is state of the art.

Will be.

Yes, will be. And we'll have it designed by a firm of top architects. We'll throw it open to international competition. Create a real buzz before a single brick has been laid.

Yes, but -

It's win-win, John. People will flock just to see the building. Just to experience the vibe.

Did you just say 'experience the vibe'?

I rather think I did.

It'd be even better if they came to use the services.

That too. And we could hire it out for conferences and -

I'm still a bit worried about the community libraries. These volunteers who'll replace paid staff, will they be allowed to see users' names and addresses in the library data base? What are the legal implications? And what training and support will they have? And what if -

You're forgetting the bigger picture, John. The centre of excellence!

But, hang on, isn't that really the smaller picture? The all eggs in one basket? Local communities suffering at the expense of -

The old model doesn't work anymore. We have to move with the times. It will be a triumph. Just you wait and see. The new library will be open seven days a week for over seventy hours a week. It will be a shining example of what a library can truly be.

 

*

 

Morning, John.

Morning.

The figures for the new central library are in and, I have to say, I'm absolutely delighted. Footfall has exceeded all expectation. Projected figures fell way short of the numbers we've actually had through the door.

The media coverage has been impressive.

Impressive? It's been global. And the satisfaction levels are through the roof!

I hear that it's become a tourist destination.

Isn't that great?

If - er - you say so.

Over a million people - ONE MILLION - over the threshold. What did I tell you? This is the future!

 

*

 

Hello, John. This is going to have to be a quick conversation, I'm afraid. I've got the powers that be breathing down my neck. Just wanted to get you up to speed about the proposal for next year's budget for the central library. We're going to have to make a few tweaks.
Tweaks?
Tweaks. Belt-tightening. For starters, we'll have to further reduce the new books budget.
That was to be expected.

And opening hours will be cut to forty hours a week.

That's over thirty hours lost.

Er. Yes. I'm afraid so. And the events and exhibitions will be stopped, unless we can get funding from outside.

Stopped?
Stopped.
Altogether?
Yes.
This is not good news -

As will business support, children's, reading, music, learning, and archive services
'As will'? What do you mean by 'as will'?

With the exception of over-the-counter services, all these will cease unless we get further funding.
All?
All.
So not really such a centre of excellence, then?

Er, maybe not. But the new central library is just part of a whole network of libraries, John. We still have the community libraries providing a -

Cut-hours, cut-price, volunteer-run sub-service?

Not quite how I'd put it, John. Not quite how I'd put it.


*

 

Any similarities to any specific libraries living, dying or dead is purely coincidental and should not be inferred. #SaveLibraries

 

Merry Christmas! Happy reading!
 

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