Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Demise of the Public Library

January 5, 2012, The New York Times

LONDON — A couple of years ago, after a reading in Karachi, I told off a young man who was asking me to sign a pirated copy of one of my books. Piracy is destroying publishing in Pakistan, I told him. He said he understood but added that because pirated books are cheaper he could buy more of them. It’s not as if Karachi is filled with public libraries, he said.
Ben Stansall/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe Kensal Rise Library in London on Nov. 13. It was closed as part of a government plan.
The Kensal Rise Library in London on Nov. 13. It was closed as part of a government plan.A few weeks later, back in London, I walked into my local library and felt immensely grateful for how easily available books were — crime-free. I had no idea then of the crisis facing British libraries (pdf). Over the last year or two, you’d have had to be living under several rocks not to notice.
The part of North London I live in borders the council of Brent, now the site of an intense legal battle to save local libraries that has become the vanguard for similar efforts around the country. On Dec. 29, police officers held back protestors outside Preston Library while local government officials removed all its books, impervious to the nearby poster of Santa, a speech bubble over his head saying “Don’t rely on me; give kids their books back.” Since April 2011, 423 libraries have either closed down or been slated for closure — that’s almost 10 percent of all libraries in Britain.
In Brent, the move is being sold to the public as the “Libraries Transformation Project.” Six of Brent’s 12 libraries will be closed, and the more than $1.5 million that will (allegedly) be saved will then be used to improve the remaining libraries, create a Virtual Library and open a “super library.” That new building will cost more than $4.6 million, an expense that should give pause to anyone who says that tough decisions have to be made in this Age of Austerity — pause that might turn into speechlessness once you realize that Brent Council paid out $460,000 to consultants in March 2011, the same month officials recommended closing down all the libraries. Goodbye Austerity, Hello Transformation.
Losing half the council’s libraries will be transformative, of course. But the word usually implies a change for the better, and however wonderful it is, the super library will do little for those who live miles away. Ninety percent of users who were surveyed during the consultation process at the start of 2011 said they walk to their libraries; moving those libraries out of walking range will obviously limit their accessibility.
Full story at New York Times.

No comments: