Friday, 29 October 2010

Welcome to Burnt Oak cafe-cum-library-cum-dole-office-cum-any other offers?

Barnet residents probably know by now that the council is carrying out a Strategic Libraries Review (SLR). Strategic. It sounds very high-powered. If you go onto the consultation website (closes 30 November) and take part in their survey you will discover that it isn't.

It is quite tricky trawling through the long list of questions without finally agreeing that yes, you think it's a good idea if libraries share facilities with benefits offices, Citizens Advice Bureaux, community centres, etc. But if you think that libraries should remain, pretty much, as libraries, stick to your guns. I'm sure that there will be some value in some of us who think like that taking part in this survey.

However, more important will be the other activities that people do, for example, signing the Save Barnet's libraries petition. For behind all this talk of strategy is the council's simple plan to - cut libraries, possibly closing some libraries altogether, or, at least, making them share space with many other council (and non-council) services.

For a warning of what this might mean, I invite you to visit Burnt Oak library. A lot of money has been spent doing up Burnt Oak library and putting in on the ground floor desks for benefits, HM Revenue and Customs, etc. The library is almost a token element there now, and I've heard that Nick Walkley is saying that the whole place is too crowded. Well, I don't know about that, but it is an echoing, rather cold and soulless place, with washable rubber floors - in case people disgrace themselves, I presume.

What else could they fit in there to make the place pay? Maybe some hairdressing chairs and a fruit and veg stall.

I managed to lay my hands on a copy of Barnet First the other day and discovered the origins, perhaps, of councillor Robert Rams' suggestion that, once the SLR has been completed, library books might be issued from Starbucks rather than your traditional library. There is a report in there about a laudable library outreach scheme, "Bookstart", that enables parents to get together and read and borrow books for their children. The one featured is held in a Starbucks off the A5.

One user says:
"I think bringing the library service here is a really good idea as sometimes I can't make it up to the local library which is... quite a distance from me."
Fair enough. But what you'll notice she doesn't say is: I think we should close libraries and all meet up in coffee shops instead.

If Barnet does close libraries, everyone is going to have a longer journey to their local library.

I also think it's wrong to hold public events in private, commercial spaces. Why should Starbucks be making bucks out of our book borrowing?

No comments: