Tuesday 6 March 2018

Barnet Council paying security guards to keep mums and children out of our local libraries

If you were making a short film to show what a marvellous service Barnet's libraries were providing, what sort of stories and images would you use?  I'd probably show a mum with a young child turning up at the library, being greeted by a helpful librarian and then see the youngster selecting books and leaving with a big smile on their face. I think that is the image we all want to imagine for our local library service.

As you may know, the council has spent £14 million on "reconfiguring" our library service.  How are these changes working out in the real world? Today I was having lunch with one of our most esteemed Barnet Residents, Gerrard Roots, the highly respected former curator of Church Farmhouse Museum. Gerrard is always great company, regaling me with tales of the "Hendon Nudist Riots at the Welsh Harp" in the 1930's and how Bram Stoker set Dracula in St Mary's Churchyard.

However, Gerrard then recounted a terrible tale concerning Hendon library, one which left me speechless. I was so shocked that I asked him if he'd be so kind as to repeat the story whilst I filmed, as I think this is something that Barnet Residents need to be aware of. Here is the film and I strongly suggest that you watch this and share this clip with your friends.

Libraries in Barnet used to be one of the jewels in the civic crown. Hendon Library was a large space, with a beautiful space for a childrens library, loved by residents and popular with young people needing quiet space to work and revise. The Council used to pay trained librarians to welcome young mums with small children. They would guide them to the section with the best books for the age group and provide a safe and welcoming environment for all.

In an act of complete cultural vandalism, Librarians have been sacked and as Gerrard recounts, now Barnet employ security guards to keep out the young mums and small children. They are paid to warn and scare off esteemed public servants. As Gerrard was formerly a council officer for decades, with a special responsibility as custodian of culture in Hendon, he is completely dumbstruck that Barnet Council now employs guards to keep people out of libraries rather than librarians to welcome them in.

The Barnet Times has a story detailing a protest by local residents upset by the Councils policy.  If you read Barnet Libraries supremo, Councillor Reuben Thompstone, you would think that all was well in the service. He told the times

"Though we have changed the number of staffed hours our libaries are open, we will be increasing the number of hours our residents can access our libraries each week. There has been a very positive uptake for self-service opening hours, with more than 17,000 people already signed up."
As you can see from Gerrards tale, whilst the Library may technically be open, it is no longer the welcoming, friendly library of the past. We no longer have librarians to help. If you find you have forgotten your access card, you get turned away, even though there is someone on site who could let you in. As Gerrard points out, what will the small child think of the Library? Will they think it is a nice place to go? Or will it be one of those experiences that you recall later in life where  a "nasty man in a uniform was mean to mummy and a nice old man who was trying to help".  I remember a park keeper being rude to my mother when I was a child. She wanted to use the loo in the park, just as he was locking it. It is an image that lingered to this day and I still feel angry at the thought. 

What has Barnet Council come to? What sort of madness is it that means we pay security guards to keep people out of libraries, when all they want to do is return their books and use the facilities that the council has apparently spent £14 million doing up?

The only logical explanation of this "reconfiguration" that I can think of is that it makes the libraries so unpopular that the Council can then sell them off without a whiff of public protest. What other reason can there possibly be for a council wanting people to turn people away from the library who simply want to read and learn?

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