As many library campaigners in the UK probably know, the judicial review raised by Brent library campaigners began earlier this week. It looked very promising that campaigners had forced their Council into this position to save their local libraries.
However, it appears that one of the main reasons for taking this to court is that local campaigners put proposals to Brent Council to run these libraries as volunteer managed/community led libraries and these proposals were rejected by the council. (See here for more details.)
This came as a bit of a surprise to other local campaigners, including Voices For The Library team members, who have not only been defending the value of libraries, but also the importance of the roles trained library staff and librarians have in providing these services. The outcome of this judicial review could have serious implications for other campaigners who are not campaigning for volunteer run libraries, including those whose judicial reviews (such as Gloucestershire and Somerset) are due to be heard.
It also raises the question about whether high profile supporters of Brent’s library campaign, such as Philip Pullman, Alan Bennett, Zadie Smith and Michael Rosen were aware of the campaigners intentions?
The Guardian, (Monday 22 November 2010) stated:
Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, said he was “greatly concerned” by developments. “The librarian is not simply a checkout clerk whose simple task could be done by anyone and need not be paid for,” he said. “Those who think that every expert can be replaced by a cheerful volunteer who can step in and do a complex task for nothing but a cup of tea are those who fundamentally want to see every single public service sold off, closed down, abolished.”
Surely this statement of support for librarians is at odds with support for the Brent libraries campaign.
Alan Benett also talks about concern for the privatisation and selling off of local libraries:
“It’s hard not to think that like other Tory policies privatising the libraries has been lying dormant for 15 years, just waiting for a convenient crisis to smuggle it through. Libraries are, after all, as another think tank clown opined a few weeks ago, ‘a valuable retail outlet’.”
One of the Brent campaigners concerns was the rejection of the proposal for Library Systems and Services UK Ltd, a private company to take over the running of some libraries. Even the move towards volunteer libraries could be seen as a step towards selling off the library service and “discharges [Brent] of their obligations.”
We also wonder if other supporters of the campaign, such as Michael Rosen and Zadie Smith, are happy to support this situation, bearing in mind that the value of libraries they used when they were younger – the libraries that played such an important part in their lives – were built up on the work that librarians had undertaken to develop the service?
It’s also interesting to note that the Brent campaigners cite CILIP in their reasoning behind their plans, indicating how library services should be provided. CILIP is the professional body for librarians and library staff, and as such, it’s doubtful that they would also advocate the removal of trained library staff and librarians as the main providers of public library services, and replace them with volunteers.
We are very concerned about this situation!
UPDATE: Since publishing this post a number of Brent campaigners have commented on it and we welcome the discussion this has led to. Please see here for more details.