Shirley Burnham's Blog : December 2010


A Deception of Madoff Proportions : December 2010

Have you ever been asked "What do you want in your library?" either by a local authority for the purposes of 'consultation', or by central government to help inform the future shape of the Library Service ?

By means of that anodyne query we, the public have been deceived, fooled into thinking that we have been empowered with the ability, ourselves, to affect any outcome whatsoever.

We have been deceived since at least 2005, the year of a debate conducted by the Kaufman Select Committee. Following publication of that key report, both the DCMS and MLA wrote responses, committing themselves to implementing its recommendations.  Notwithstanding that positive outcome, they were both criticised in an adjournment debate in February 2006 for their continuing failure to do so.  Nothing has changed.

Fast forward to 2009 : a year when Sue Charteris’s landmark judgement on whether The Wirral should close 11 libraries was the major issue.  2009 also saw the DCMS readying itself to report on a review of the public library service and the All Party Parliamentary Group doing likewise on the service's national operation.  Last but not least, a CILIP report was imminent, to explain 'What Are Libraries For ?'.

As paper mounted and frustration escalated, the Wirral Inquiry, its felicitous outcome and the "woeful lack of leadership" identified by the All Party Parliamentary Group raised hopes that some action would be taken to remedy what was gradually developing into a national problem.  Nothing was done.

Margaret Hodge, former Culture Minister, told The Guardian that little depressed her more "than going into a library and being confronted by a computer and someone in authority who isn't going to deliver the citizen-focused services I think should be on offer."  She added, "I won't have this.  Libraries can't go on being merely traditional.  That's why we should consider volunteers."

Library users found that Ms Hodge was not on the same page as they.  She was absorbed with a Kindle whilst they valued trained, paid library staff and clamoured for books.  Her own consultation document, 'Empower, Inform, Enrich', emerged in December 2009, but enlightened very little.

Thankfully, HM's Loyal Opposition did not stand idly by.  One statement by Ed Vaizey MP in February 2010 alluded to Ms Hodge’s oeuvre.  He said it was "outrageous and offensive to everyone who ever cared about books and reading" for Hodge to raise the question of whether libraries should remain a statutory local authority service and added that, "This proposal would put the future of every public library in the country under threat".

"Hooray !"  cheered the great, the good as well as the more humble library defender, "Vaizey is our man !"

Post-election, by means of a most clever illusion worthy of Paul Daniels, objects (notably the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act) are made to appear or disappear by extending or retracting mirrors -- amid a confusing burst of smoke or hot air.  Evidently, the same Mr Vaizey, now Culture Minister, Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State, and their helper, the MLA, are now presiding over the dismantling of our public library service.

"What do you want in your library ?" they asked [last year],  "Defend your neighbourhoods !" they exhort [this year].  "Volunteer at your library, buy your library, or be damned !" they’ll cry [next year].

We say : "you all stand accused of perpetrating a cynical deception, of Madoff proportions."