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Camden New Journal - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 27 March 2008
Changing face of the library

• I HAVE been a book-lover all my life – I found my vocation at 16 working in a library, but I would not want to work in libraries now.

It saddens me to see so many users at my local library gazing at a screen, oblivious of the treasure trove of books all around them.
I see computers as enemies of libraries, of literacy (text messages) and of literature itself. Why?
For one thing, I am unable to access the latest software catalogue. What was wrong with the old catalogue? It would never “go down” as the online one does.
And publishers now use computerised indexes to cut costs, but these are based on a “key word” and consequently totally meaningless. So we have lost that reliable, accurate source of reference – the index.
Email may be quicker than “snail mail” and the internet more up-to-date than a printed book but information sources are open to Orwellian Big Brother tampering and I don’t trust them. Thus at the age of 81, I am determined to remain computer illiterate.
The public library used to be known as “the poor man’s university” where one went not just for information but for knowledge that could be gleaned from (edited) books.
I am aware of the need to change and adapt, but computers are by no means the be all and end all.
Those new-style managers for whom IT is everything are like lemmings hurtling towards a precipice.
Many of their “customers” use the library as a convenience (like a lavatory) for their emails, probably because it’s cheaper than an internet cafe.
As for the future, to what extent will we be losing our past – given the viability of computer systems and software? And what does the Google world do to today’s children’s ability to reflect and think for themselves?
To end on a positive note. Since I came back to London 12 years ago, I have visited Swiss Cottage library at least once a week (though rather less frequently recently). I reserve books that I have read about in reviews, and very rarely have I been unable to obtain a book I wanted eventually.
So my grateful thanks for that particular service.
However, Doris Lessing made the point well in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, when she lamented that “children in Zimbabwe are starving for knowledge, while those in more privileged countries shun reading for the inanities of the internet”.
Oriel Place, NW3

New books

• THE article on libraries was interesting (It’s a turn-up for the books as libraries see borrowing slump, March 6) but some assertions need challenging.
AN Wilson’s “people can’t find books there any more” and Tim Coates “libraries have become an empty set of buildings” are plain nonsense.
The central library at Swiss Cottage is fully occupied by people either studying or reading. Branches (when open) are fully used.
Admittedly, there is a lot of older stock on the shelves, the factual stuff superseded by later publications.
Mr Wilson may mean he cannot get the latest publishings, though there are new books bought, just not enough. Fiction abounds, also entertainment stuff such as DVDs etc. The classical music stock has recordings first made as early as the 1960s.
Unlike Amanda Platell, many cannot afford to buy books constantly, so the library serves those of us like that. Perhaps she could donate her surplus new books to the local library.
It is good to see young children coming to their local library to read. However, where their space is not enclosed, noise spills over and distracts adult users. Some of the parents treat the place as playgrounds and the reading is their last intention on visits.
Finally, by closing the service over the entire bank holiday period many people unable to get to the places in the week are denied access on Easter Saturday.
A staff rota system surely is possible.
That Swiss Cottage will open each Sunday from April is very welcome news.

Impact of job cuts

• PERHAPS the downturn in library use you reported isn’t purely to do with trends in reading (It’s a turn-up for the books as libraries see borrowing slump, March 6).
I understand that at West Hampstead library on West End Lane, the children’s library has been closed on a number of occasions over the past weeks, for around 25 hours in all.
Apparently the reason for this is that there is a freeze on filling vacancies due to the Lib Dem/Tory council’s programme of budget cuts. Unsurprisingly, the Lib Dems and Tories don’t seem to be trumpeting this particular success of their stewardship. Cutting the odd job (or not recruiting for empty posts) may not sound too bad to some, but it’s clear that it can have a real impact on front-line services.
Meanwhile the Lib Dems and Tories are salting away more than £35 million in reserves – it’s our money, why can’t they spend it on our services?
Chair, Hampstead & Kilburn Labour Party, NW6

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Camden New Journal, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to The deadline for letters is midday Tuesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld. Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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