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Monday, 31 August 2015

Amateurisation of Public Libraries

Leon's Library Blog has an interesting piece on the Amateurisation of Public Libraries.  CILIP, the official body for librarians, has come firmly against community managed libraries, particularly because of job substitution of paid staff.  That is, I would think, a fairly obvious f0or any kind of trade union to do. 

Brent is actually quite unusual in this respect.  Most authorities where there have been cuts to the libraries budget (which by now is pretty much all of them) have chosen to offer a "Big Society" route.  When Brent was mulling its proposals, this was part of the zeitgeist created by the newly elected coalition government.  Brent considered that option, but rejected it because it by no means clear that that would save money.  Many other authorities _ Surrey, Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire and many others _ have embraced it.    People opposed to library cuts in those areas have therefore tended to oppose volunteer libraries as inevitably inadequate.

In Brent, after the handing over of public assets was rejected, founding volunteer libraries became the main focus of the campaign including the legal challenge where the Judge confirmed the Council's position.  One group, Barham, appear to have succeeded in running a library cum bookshop on Wembley High Road on a stand alone basis.  Two more, Cricklewood and Kensal Rise, have plans to run some sort of facilities on the former library sites.  Again, these are independent of Council control.  The last group still hoping to run some sort of library (although I would suggest calling it a "library" is likely to mislead) is the Preston group.  This is still aiming to get substantial Council support, a level of support that I think is highly unlikely to be granted.  

The great danger in handing over a library to volunteers is that is continues to rely on the Council for funding and various other kinds of support.  This can become a substantial drain on library services that are already under pressure.  I am sure that if Brent had gone down the route of supporting the various voluntary groups that wanted to run their own libraries, officers would not have been able to deliver the level of success that the Libraries Transformation Project has attained. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Automatic Library Cards Again

Scotland has launched a scheme for automatic library cards, which has an obvious superficial appeal.  Two things surprise me about this scheme.

The first is the funding level _ a mere £80,000.  The report doesn't describe what that buys, but across Scotland's 32 local authorities, it can't be much.  A city like Edinburgh, with a population of about half a million won't really notice a few thousand pounds.

The second surprise is that there is no mention of other automatic library card schemes in Wales and in England, of which Brent has one.  The evaluation of these pilots showed that success was not as easy as one might think.  In particular, they need a lot of follow up if they are really going to work.  That means staff time and resources.  There is something wrong with our political culture that looking at the evidence just doesn't seem to be a natural part of our policy making.  That is a major reason why our public bodies often make mistakes unnecessarily.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Escher Exhibition

The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art is hosting an impressive exhibition on the art of M C Escher.  I went to it on a recent trip to Edinburgh and it is well worth seeing. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The New Life of Brent Town Hall

Martin Francis has an interesting preview of the new French School in Wembley here.  It certainly sounds as if the architects have gone to great lengths to preserve some of the character of the original building.  This was the intention of the Planning Committee when we gave planning permission.  As the building had listed status, and is indeed a Pevsner building, preserving its character was of great importance.  We also imposed a condition to seek to maximise community access of the facilities.

Finally, I am glad to hear that the former Town Hall library looks beautiful.  According to the plans as they were when planning permission was granted it will be used as a library for the school, although of course the pupils will also be able to access the excellent Wembley library at the nearby Civic Centre. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Children Library at Willesden Library Centre

I have published quite a lot of photos of the new Willesden Library Centre, which in many ways is the culmination of Brent's Libraries Transformation Project.  Oddly, this hasn't included the children's section, which takes up most of the ground floor.

This is certainly far larger than the children's library in the old Willesden Library Centre.  It also has a far more open frontage, as you can see here:

The new children library, like Wembley Library before it, also has a number of ipads set up as well as a broader range of facilities than the old library.

Really, I think it is one of the many features which makes the argument that the new library is greatly superior to the old frankly undeniable.

Monday, 24 August 2015

One Stop Shop in Willesden Library

These are some of the PCs that have replaced the former One Stop Shop in the old Willesden Library and after that Harlesden Job Centre.  Apart from the initial phase, the area has been unstaffed and is likely to remain so.  I am not sure that an unstaffed facility really has much value.  I understand that many people prefer to use the Civic Centre facilities as they can ask for staff advice if they don't understand something.  I therefore wonder whether these PCs are at some stage going to be replaced with general public access PCs.