Protests echo around phone and food plan for libraries

PUBLISHED: 12:33 25 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:26 07 September 2010

By Miguel Cullen THE sight of the fast-approaching librarian, a reproachful index finger held against pursed lips and a stern Shhh! could soon be consigned to the reading-room dustbin by a new council initiative. Camden Council has tabled plans that cou

By Miguel Cullen

THE sight of the fast-approaching librarian, a reproachful index finger held against pursed lips and a stern "Shhh!" could soon be consigned to the reading-room dustbin by a new council initiative.

Camden Council has tabled plans that could let the Nokia-toting prawn sandwich brigade invade the silence of libraries and break your concentration with their phone conversations and crisp-crunching.

In other words, mobile phones, food and drink could soon be allowed in libraries.

But the plans, only at an early stage, have been met with savage opposition by library users and local literary stars.

"I'd like to see councillor Flick Rea [Camden's executive member for culture] sit down and write a complicated council report while people are talking on their mobile phone, and see how she likes it," said best-selling author Deborah Moggach, who lives in South End Green.

According to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountability, borrowing from libraries across England has fallen by 34 per cent in the last decade. Camden's plans have been drawn up to tackle this trend and attract younger people into libraries.

Ms Moggach said: "It's another example of people trying to suck up to the young. It's insane. Young people need all the space they can to concentrate.

"Quiet doesn't mean nasty rules - it just means quiet. Someone talking on a mobile phone, even in a low voice, is very distracting. It will completely destroy the last refuge of quietness."

Culture boss Cllr Rea hit back: "I don't think one should be riven with guilt every time one's mobile phone goes off. Let's live and let live a bit.

"I understand that quiet is hugely valuable to study, but this is a way of making libraries more relevant."

People outside the Swiss Cottage Library were mainly against the scheme, bar one or two supporters from the younger generation.

Faye Smith, 38, of Adelaide Road, said: "They might as well turn it into a coffee shop. People already make mess with food here.

"I think that's really terrible if you're studying and concentrating. People can be very selfish when they have conversations. It would be awful having people talk on mobile phones."

But Susan Dinon, 24, of Eton Road, said: "I think it's a great idea for public libraries. I don't see the need to be so quiet in Swiss Cottage library. The proposal makes it a bit more sociable and functional."

When questioned on the possible fate of his ward's library, Swiss Cottage councillor Andrew Marshall said: "I find this pretty surprising. I'm not sure that I could easily support the move. You could say I'm concerned about it."

A Camden Council spokeswoman added: "The council is always looking for new ways to encourage more people through the doors by making them more user friendly.

"Ideas could include relaxing some of the rules on silence or allowing visitors to bring in their own snacks and drinks. However, no decisions or plans have been made and the council would consult with library users and residents on any proposals."

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