Sunday, 12 September 2010

Emily Christophers and Public Libraries

One of Glenn Rikowski's ex-undergraduate students, (who is now studying for a PGCE at Northampton), Emily Christophers (a great Education Studies student, graduating in July 2010) gave Glenn two articles last week. It was very thoughtful of her to cut out these articles from The Week (28th August 2010) and give them to Glenn for us to read.

As an Education Studies student at the University of Northampton, Emily read some of both mine and Glenn's work from 'The Flow of Ideas' website (the Rikowski family website). Furthermore, she also obtained my single-authored book, Globalisation, Information and Libraries (Chandos Publishing, 2005) from the Open University Library and read some of that as well. This reading led to her cutting out these articles for us.

One of the articles Emily had cut out (for Glenn) from The Week was about BBP University College of Professional Studies; the UK's second private higher education providers. The first was University College Buckingham (UCB, now University of Buckingham) which was set up in 1973, when the Conservatives were in power. Margaret Thatcher formally opened UCB in 1976. The establishment of BBP indicates how the private sector is looking to get into higher education provision in the UK on a bigger scale, especially now that potential providers (such as Kaplan, a US outfit) view the current Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government as being sympathetic to their plans.

University of Buckingham Biology Research Labs

Emily gave me a short piece to read from The Week (of 28th August 2010, p.14) entitled: 'A sneaky way to destroy our public libraries' by Terence Blacker, from The Independent. The Week summarises various news items from the previous week.

In this piece, Blacker talks about the current UK coalition government's 'Future Libraries Programme' which was launched by the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, last week (early September 2010) and the fancy words about 'community' and 'partnership' which are embedded in it. As Blacker points out, if the fancy words are stripped away, we find that they are really simply code for the privatisation of our public libraries. And this of course, is what I have been warning people about over the last 10 years or so. In my book, Globalisation, Information and Libraries I go into it all in great depth, seeking to demonstrate how global agreements made far from home, will and are impacting clearly and directly at the local level, bringing in the commercialisation and privatisation of our dearly loved state-funded libraries.

So, the Culture Minister's plan will trial 'new governance models' for libraries; in Suffolk local community groups will run the libraries, for example, whereas in Bradford they will be run in supermarkets. Also, for a while now in the London Borough of Newham (where I worked for quite some years), public libraries have been running alongside Community Information Services (so unfortunately Newham has been very much a pioneer here!).

As Blacker points out, whilst one one level this might all sound 'very modern and inclusive' it actually:

"...amounts to back-door privatisation, a way for central government to 'wriggle out' of its obligation, under the 1964 Libraries and Museum Act, to step in if a local library authority fails to provide basic library services."

The leading article in The Guardian of 31st August 2010, also speaks about the 'Future Libraries Programme' in a piece entitled 'Open Books' (p.30). It starts off with saying:

"Naturally, those who most loved libraries as children are now their most articulate supporters."
Well, I know what they mean there, although there is only so much time and energy any one person can give to any one cause! If certain powers that be and certain folks are really determined to destroy something, then well, it will be destroyed in some fashion, although on the optimistic side something else is likely to emerge in some form or other (so don't let's get totally despondent!) Capitalism can't have it all its own way; that is impossible. It would suit capitalism if humans worked 24/7 for example, but of course, humans need sleep, rest, food and drink etc, so that just isn't on. So, then we come up with the concept of the 'length of the working day'. Anyway, I digress somewhat...

The article in The Guardian points out that there are 10 projects in the 'Future Libraries Programme' and that these are:

"...testbeds for many of the ideas that the coalition would like to apply to other public services. Two London boroughs are considering merger of their library provision. Suffolk wants community groups to manage them. Most controversially, some of Bradford's books could be moved into shops."

The article argues that faced with budget cuts many councils will:

"...freeze new acquisitions, cut opening hours, and perhaps charge for book clubs and children's story-times. Some libraries will close altogether."

Others will see the introduction of more volunteers, and less professional staff in libraries. The article concludes by arguing that working-class areas will suffer in particular, as the people in these communities are less likely to defend their public libraries as vigorously as those in more middle class areas.

And so, my concerns and predictions are all starting to come to pass.....And even worse, libraries rather than being in the background/a backwater to future trends, are actually paving the way it seems. Heavens!

One wonders if and when folks will actually and meangingfully sit up, take notice of what we have been saying and actively and determinedly try to do something to stop the rot. Not that it will be at all easy, but even so...It all remains to be seen, but it is great that Emily is taking up some of the issues in this way, and many thanks to her for all of that.

On a personal basis, as well, we wish Emily all the best of luck for her future career in primary school teaching.

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