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Thursday, March 06, 2008

The missing page

Just heard Margaret Hodge, Minister for Culture, on Front Row talking about how our public libraries could learn a thing or two from Borders or Waterstones - and using the expression "wanna" rather more than I'd like a Minister of the Crown to do.
She reckons that if they installed an espresso machine, introduced 24 hour opening and had an online ordering service then things would be better. Can we take that as a tacit acceptance that public libraries currently have tumbleweed blowing through them and it's about time the public and the government had a grown up debate about what part - if any - they should play in the national life? She's seen people buying three for two on Oxford Street in a highly engineered retail environment and wants to know why we can't have that vibe in East Cheam's public libraries. Dear God.
Do these children believe what's in their latest press release? Nobody will utter the truth. Knee jerk defence of the public libraries is at its strongest amongst people who would never dream of using them. Libraries flourished in an era when people couldn't afford books even if they could find them. That's not true anymore. The only way that councils can get any footfall in the places at all is by promoting the DVD section, which fulfils very little cultural/educational purpose. I couldn't believe it when I was working in the West End a few years ago and the mobile library would park up at lunchtime in order to make sure that office workers IN THE WEST END OF LONDON could borrow the new Tom Cruise.
Dickens must be spinning.