I am delighted to announce that a barely literate article on Conservative Home has labelled my book The Edge ‘unpleasant.’ Mm, post, kettles and black.
Read more here:
My reply post on Conservative Home:
My reply on Conservative Home: “This barely literate article misses a key point in my ‘white-hating’ novel. The protagonist Danny is mixed race. His mum is white. His dad is black. At the end of the novel their love is being rekindled. Still, why let little things like the truth get in the way of a good polemic? My novel promotes community cohesion and friendship among people of all ethnic backgrounds. Does the author deny racism is a reality in our society? Does he not know that at least 96 people have died in racist attacks since the death of Stephen Lawrence? Does he not know that sadly there are still many thousands of racist attacks every year in the UK. I despise racism and, in case the author of this dishonest article doesn’t know, have written a novel which exposes ‘Islamist radicalism’ and its deleterious impact. Once more I say, why let facts get in the way of a cheap polemic? Finally, let me say that the call for governors to ban books like mine has a disturbing reek of intolerance. The only positive in the article is that if somebody as bone-headed as the author attacks my book I must be doing something right.”
Another post from a teacher:
“The Edge is a story about a young boy struggling with life, prejudice and domestic violence. In the story he is shown kindness by black and white people and his mother is white. The children in the middle class white school I work in love this book and see it for what it is and do not try and twist it into some ugly distortion as you have which is deliberate and that makes it all the more dangerous and irresponsible . Your stirring of hate will make our streets more unsafe for all our children.”
Campaign for the Book Newsletter
‘Envisioning’ the decline of the public library service
Language is a wonderful thing. It can be moving and lyrical. It can be concise and analytical. It is the vehicle of our hopes, dreams and aspirations. It is the way we express who we are. Sadly, it can also be a means to confuse, obfuscate and evade. It was with some trepidation therefore that I opened “The Library of the Future”, Arts Council England’s response to its research project, teeth-grindingly entitled “Envisioning the library of the future.”
Envisioning? What’s wrong with a word like imagining or maybe even picturing? But envisioning! Instantly, my finely tuned newspeak detector was tingling. It is not that there is anything in the report that leaps out at you as wrong or retrograde. It all seems very worthy, even bland. It says that there is a ‘clear, compelling need for a publicly funded library service.” Well, that’s good to hear. It comes up with four points with which few would quibble:
*Place the library as the hub of the community
*Make the most of digital technology and creative media
*Ensure libraries are resilient and sustainable
*Deliver the right skills for those who work in libraries
The only problem is that this eminently reasonable list of bullet points is being issued while the sword of Damocles is hanging by an ever more palpably fraying thread over the head of the public library service. It is all very well ‘envisioning’ the digital future when up and down the country branch libraries are closing the door for the last time or being handed over to an uncertain future in the hands of volunteer groups whose long term viability is questionable. How robust does the future of libraries look in Sheffield and Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool where around half the branch network is in danger? How resilient do libraries seem in Herefordshire where the councillors’ idea of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service is one library in the whole county? How are librarians in Sefton going to develop the right skills when up to forty of them may be made redundant? How will libraries become the hubs of their community when vast swathes of our community will not have one?
Astonishingly, fifteen months of work has resulted in this document which is not even a pale imitation of New Zealand’s Strategic Framework.
John Dolan of CILIP is spot on when he says: “The report shows that people are passionate about having a library in their communitybut with the difficult economic realities faced by local authorities and without stronger political leadership supporting a clear national vision it’s going to be a struggle to deliver consistently high-quality and relevant library services in communities across the country. A postcode lottery is not fair or equitable.”
The Library Campaign captures the nature of the crisis perfectly when it says: “Libraries are closing at an unprecedented rate. Others are hacked to pieces. Desperate communities are trying to take them on to save them – and are getting no help or advice.”
While libraries in countries as dissimilar New Zealand and South Korea, Japan and Finland have far more secure futures and far better leadership than we have in the UK, ours are often clinging to survival by a thread. This is not the fault of the Arts Council. It was asked to supervise libraries with a wretchedly inadequate budget at a time when it had mulitiple burdens and a declining staff. The responsibility for this lies with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. For too long the ministers have placed the telescope to their blind eye and asked: “Crisis, what crisis?”
Month after month, year after year, we campaigners have demanded action in the form of a coherent plan for the future. Month after month, year after year, we have protested at the idea that a council can destroy half its library branch network and still claim to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service. Our warnings have been met with deaf ears and even derision. Our attempts to ‘call in’ the various closure programmes under the 1964 Act have been dismissed with a patronising wave of the ministerial hand.
Now we have this mockery taken to its grotesque conclusion in Herefordshire where a single library is held up to be a service. Don’t let your political leaders get away with pointing to the new flagship city centre libraries as evidence of a thriving service. These institutions can be inspiring, but without a surrounding branch network they could in time become cavernous white elephants, giant fig leaves disguising the wholesale destruction of a once proud service. If we are to develop the libraries of tomorrow we need the libraries of today to provide the bridge. The danger is that, under the woeful, neglectful and cavalier leadership of the DCMS the bridge will collapse and the destination will not be reached.
ACE: Libraries should be ‘hub’ of communities
Newsletter | “Envisioning” the decline of the public library service
Library Campaign : 23rd May
ACE Libraries report launched – Missing in action?
inc. link to Report
CILIP : 23rd May
Press Release | Call for political leadership on Libraries
SCL : 23rd May
SCL Welcomes Arts Council’s Envisioning Report
LocalGov.co.uk : 23rd May
Libraries must remain community hubs despite technological change, report says
inc quote from Ed Vaizey MP
BBC News : 23rd May
Sefton Council approves plans to close seven libraries
Liverpool Echo : 23rd May
Seven libraries to close by end of year, confirm Sefton Council
Council still open to community groups taking over, but campaigners fear being too late to act
Crosby Herald : 23rd May
Sefton | Council report recommends closure of libraries in Crosby and Litherland
Evesham Observer : 23rd May
Broadway | More details given to help decide library future
“It’s now up to the community to pull together to maintain the building and create a flexible exciting hub that really meets the needs of our community.”
Sefton | Merseyside library cull could lead to 40 (frontline) staff redundancies
A report to councillors tells how between 16 and 19 full-time posts would be lost, but because the bulk of library staff are part-time that would put up to 40 people at risk of redundancy.
New library to be built in Bradford city centre
Leading Article | New chapter for library services
BBC News : 22nd May
Business | Paperless public libraries switch to digital
Brent & Kilburn Times : 22nd May
Council agree to work with campaigners in Kensal Rise Library battle
During the meeting the council conceded they had made mistakes in their previous running of the libraries but insisted they were keen to work with the community going forward.
The Save Kensal Rise Library Survey : 22nd May
Ealing Gazette : 22nd May
Private company set to run Ealing libraries
They Work For You | Hansard 20th May
Public Lending Right (PLR) – the Minister responds to a Parliamentary Q from Dan Jarvis MP
They Work For You | Hansard 20th May
Audio-book loans – the Minister responds to a Parliamentary Q from Dan Jarvis MP
THE BOOKSELLER : 21st May
Desmond Clarke | Blind Eye
There is a strong suspicion that the DCMS is turning a blind eye to the closure of libraries in some of the UK’s most deprived communities. (some forceful comments)
Hansard : 20th May
Parliamentary Question | Libraries in deprived areas
Alan Gibbons Blog : 18th May
And yet…thoughts on the opening of the new Liverpool Central Library
There is a sub-plot to this apparent success story. Half of Liverpool’s branch libraries are set for closure. Liverpool has 19 libraries at present, but the council thinks it can save around £938,000 (from April 2014) by closing around 10.
Mancunian Matters : 21st May
‘No easy decisions’: Future of six Manchester libraries still uncertain as council give campaigners June deadline
But rather than scrap the proposed closures as campaigners want, the executive instead decided today to put in place a deadline for the end of June for proposals to be put forward. ….. “These are not things we want to do and that we get elected to do.”
News Shopper : 21st May
Bromley libraries partner with RNIB to make reading more accessible
Burton Mail : 21st May
Solar panels on libraries save county council over £350,000
The £330,000 investment in libraries is expected to be paid back in just over nine years. After the panels have paid for themselves the council will continue to receive free electricity and the Government’s incentives for a further 15 years.
Marginalia: Little Libraries in the Urban Margins
“these projects can’t help but raise big and important questions”
SW Londoner : 20th May
Gove faces backlash after South West London libraries insist children are reading ‘proper’ books
SNP : 20th May
Aberdeen | Donside – Labour candidate challenged on libraries
Cambridge News : 20th May
Has the school library a future in the digital age?
About My Area : 16th May
Essex | New library for Springfield
to be staffed by volunteers from the word go (with support from Essex Libs)
I attended a ceremony this week to celebrate the reopening of Liverpool Central library. Of course I did. After all, my name features on the writers’ wall that adorns one side of our refurbished temple of the book. It was a real razzle-dazzle event complete with guests in formal attire, staff in frock coats and top hats, flamingos on stilts, storybook characters roaming the building and a choir. The three-year renovation cost a cool £55 million. The result is stunning. From the dazzling atrium to the glorious Hornby Room, from the legendary Picton Room to the state of the art décor, it amounts to a new wonder of Merseyside. I remember the worn, tired giant I used to visit and it is glorious to see it rising from the shabby decline into which it had fallen.
And yet…and yet…
There is a sub-plot to this apparent success story. Half of Liverpool’s branch libraries are set for closure. Liverpool has 19 libraries at present, but the council thinks it can save around £938,000 (from April 2014) by closing around 10. I believe that a library service is more than a flagship central library and a few satellite branches. Taken to its extreme, the notion that an area can run a centralised library service without roots in the communities leads to the insane strategy we see in Herefordshire where the councillors are actually talking about retaining just one library. Liverpool’s plan is nowhere near that extreme, but I can’t in good conscience approve the loss of half the branches. The young and the elderly are most dependent on a local branch and the least likely to have access to transport. A child who visits a library is twice as likely as one who doesn’t to read fluently (National Literacy Trust). The further a reader is from a local branch the less likely she or he is to use it. To diminish the branch network is to diminish the culture of reading.
Do I understand the pressures on Mayor Joe Anderson and his colleagues? Of course I do. They are forced to act within the parameters established by Chancellor George Osborne’s failed austerity dogma. The big northern cities appear to have suffered disproportionately severe cuts. Yes, I understand the pressures, but I can’t justify the loss of half the branch network, even with such a wonderful new resource in the city centre. After I launched a scathing critique of the library closures in the Liverpool Echo, Mayor Anderson asked me to examine the books. I believe he is missing the point. It is not the job of a Labour council to implement Tory cuts.
To conclude, I enjoyed my evening in our city’s wonderful new library. I enjoyed Head of Libraries Joyce Little’s passion. I was inspired by poet Levi Tafari’s eloquence.
And yet…and yet…I am haunted by the thought of those closed libraries, of communities losing yet another resource, of yet more doors to opportunity closing. That is why I can only raise two cheers for our new library. The third chokes on the prospect of still more closed library doors.
To confront rudely.
To challenge with an arrogant smirk.
To revel in unwarranted
Alternatively to flee
To hang up phone
When asked difficult questions.
In much dirt.
Shared services are key to saving borough millions, insists EalingContracts for managing up to 25 libraries are available for five-years including an optional five-year extension, reportedly worth £90,000-£100,000 for 10 years. Sports and Leisure Management Ltd (SLM) and John Laing plc are reported to be front runners to secure deals for leisure and library services respectively.
Darlington & Stockton Times : 19th May
Row over future of Stockton borough libraries
“Moving the library and all of its staff to a building on the peripherery would be an absolute nonsense.”
You Tube : 18th May
Herefordshire | Video: Save Our Libraries & Museums High Town Rally
Campaigners protest against Herefordshire Council cuts
Cuts are to be discussed
Looking a Trojan horse in the mouth
LGA responds re. its advice that the Library Service is ‘non-statutory’
The response from David Holdstock from the LGA is below and in full:
You Tube : 16th May
Herefordshire Libraries & Museums funding cuts 1
highly recommended – video
Hereford Times : 17th May
Green councillor Felicity Norman sees red over cabinet meeting cancellation
They Work For You : 15th May
Public Libraries – Electronic Publishing | PLR on e-books and audiobooks
Dan Jarvis Parliamentary Question – E Vaizey: Written Answer
Coventry Telegraph : 17th May
Coventry Central Library reopens after £130,000 makeover
The Public Sector Show 2013
Slides and presentations
This week I attended the opening of the new Liverpool Central library. I enjoyed
the company of author Cathy Cassidy and her husband Liam. Some photos of the evening are here.