Thursday 1 December 2016

Barnet Council - Where have all the libraries gone

Yesterday was a profoundly depressing day for me. It was the day I woke up to the fact that we really do have barbarians at the gates, trashing our neighbourhood, our services and our communities. Don't get me wrong, I've been aware of the issues. Only too aware, in truth. But it has gone from being a concept to being a reality.

Mill Hill library is to shut. Workmen will move in. When it reopens, the beloved children's section will be gone. The council are seeking to rent out the space. When I was a child, my mum used to take me there. She'd borrow Thomas The Tank engine books and read them to me. My favourite was the sad tale of Henry, the green engine. My wife did the same with my children. They all have an abiding love of books. All have excelled at school. I believe the library has played a significant role in that.

There is a disgusting letter in the local paper from Rueben Thompstone, the Conservative councillor responsible for the changes. He rather dishonestly represents this dismemberment of the service as improvements. Mr Thompstone, a brash South African, has no appreciation of how important libraries are to us. He confesses this in his letter, without realising what he's saying. His comment that  'we know from our consultation how important the library service is to residents'. Those of us born, raised and educated in Barnet need no consultation to know this.

Rueben Thompson does not understand the difference between a public library and a room with a few books in. A public library has a qualified librarian, quiet space, is a centre of the community and has people qualified to assist the elderly, children and vulnerable people. They need to be certified to work in such an environment. I found that Mill Hill library is going to be run by volunteers from April. The plan is that the NW7 hub team want to run the library. This group are a charity and plan to use the library funding to help run a new community hub in Daws Lane. Whilst I support the hub proposal, I do not support the fact that it is being used to massively degrade the existing library offering.

The view of autocratic Tory councillors such as Thompstone is that libraries are outdated and the real estate is a cash cow to be milked. They believe local people should provide such services as volunteers for free. Oddly Mr Thompstone does not believe councillors such as himself are bound by the same public spirit. He gets tens of thousands of pounds in allowances, for a part time job, which he has no qualifications to perform.

It is interesting and instructive to think that Mill Hill library was opened by Conservative councillors, who gave their time for free. They employed qualified librarians to run establishments dedicated to improving the lives of the local residents. Those councillors successors are paid a Kings ransom. Theirs will be a rather different legacy.

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