Libraries are the backbone of the public sphere

MANY people remain concerned about the restructuring of Haringey s library services, despite reassurances from the council s executive member for community, Cllr Lorna Reith, that all is well. What the council has in mind, she says, is the delivery of a

MANY people remain concerned about the restructuring of Haringey's library services, despite reassurances from the council's executive member for community, Cllr Lorna Reith, that all is well.

What the council has in mind, she says, is the delivery of a ''modern, value for money service.''

However, it is that very phrase, 'value for money' that is causing so much concern. When politicians employ this convenient and over-worked phrase, it is usually to disguise the real intent, which is to provide a cheaper service, designed to save money.

Sadly, library services across the country have often been threatened by the attentions of those who know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing. Even the British Library, the envy of the literate world, is not impervious. Cuts in government funding may mean the closure of some galleries, the restriction of opening times and the introduction of charges for reading rooms.


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By contrast, Camden Council's investment in library services has been significant, with the new Swiss Cottage library seen as a showpiece that other local authorities would do well to emulate.

Like everything else, libraries must run to budgets, but if the Haringey budgets are to be cut, it would be a good trick indeed to improve the service at the same time - particularly as the range of services a good library should be providing these days is more bountiful than ever. There are more books, more newspapers, more magazines, more documents than ever ... never mind DVDs, CDs, the internet and all other wonders of modern communication.

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Can Cllr Reith and her colleagues guarantee that customers will see an improvement in services as a result of the restructuring? Will the same level of expertise be available in as many places? After re-structuring, how many of the 171 'posts' will be FTEs (full-time equivalents) as compared to the 170 permanent staff currently employed?

A learned commentator, Mikael Book, writes: ''The public library is the backbone of the public sphere, thus of the public itself. The public became one only when it started to read and write. The genesis of the public coincides with the coming of the book, the bookshop, the journal, the coffee house, the newspaper and finally, the public library. The library has become a universal trait of humanity.''

Seldom has the importance of libraries to society been better described.

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