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Camden New Journal - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 6 August 2009
Libraries service needs our vigilance and protection

• THE letters from Alan Brownjohn (Let us campaign to stop these library philistines, July 30) and Rhoda Koenig reflect the deep concern we all have for the future of our libraries.
We have a magnificent service; our librarians are consistently helpful and knowledgeable, the libraries are, in Mr Brownjohn’s words, “havens of peace.”
The introduction of machines to replace human contact is utterly misguided.
One also shudders to think of the cost of installation of these machines, their maintenance and their inevitable breakdown.
It is also worth mentioning that in libraries where the machines have been installed, library users continue to go straight to a librarian – those who are still left. Indeed, in one library in south east London, no one at all is using a machine for the issue of books.
The excuse for this vandalism? “Greater efficiency.” Has any library user ever encountered inefficiency in our libraries?
We would, however, in response to Mr Brownjohn’s suggestion that we band together to “halt this philistine nonsense”, that at his local library in Belsize Park, users and librarians have been celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Friends of Belsize Library, a group formed specifically to protect the library.
The Friends of Heath Library group was formed not long after. These, together with other friends’ groups, are constantly vigilant; we exist to protect, promote and indeed celebrate a service which is the pride of this country. We remain vigilant. We would like to be kept informed of the prospect of any changes to our much-loved libraries.
on behalf of the Friends of Heath Library

Getting rid of books

ALAN Brownjohn said: “the heart of any library is the large well-stocked space where the public may peruse and borrow books or sit and study them, and experience a quiet they cannot find in the world outside, often not even at home” (Letters, July 30).
It would be very difficult to find anybody who would quibble with this sentiment.
The problem with it is the little phrase “well-stocked”.
For a generation Camden has been destocking its libraries at a fast rate. Between 1999 and 2006 approximately 20,000 books per year were removed (142,795 books in total) and the rate for 2006/07 worsened to over 36,600 books.
This means the council has effectively closed a branch library every two years, representing a massive withdrawal of service from the public.
Camden’s council tax payers have had their library service reduced.
So, perhaps the reduction has helped to reduce the level of taxation imposed on them? Unfortunately, that is not the case.
The library budget has not been substantially reduced. Camden’s citizens have been given a very bad deal, pay the same and get a worsening service.
The negative effects on the borough of this situation are cumulative and it is becoming very urgent that something is done to stop the rot.
While Camden has been quietly allowing its library service to decline, other London boroughs have been facing up to the problems of a modern library service and attempting to deliver a better one, without an increase of a tax which is notorious for the way it targets those least able to pay. By using new technology it has become possible for one borough to keep its libraries open for 80 hours per week (opening hours in Camden vary from 25 to 63 hours per week, with an average of approximately 45) and by simple improvements to management practices another borough has substantially increased book stocks.
The quaintly titled Growing Your Library proposals may have been Camden’s attempt to follow the path that other boroughs have trodden to improved services. One cannot really judge, because there was not enough hard substance in it.
In this circumstance, one would expect our elected representatives to dig out the real intentions behind the bland words.
The culture and environment scrutiny committee has the task of ensuring that Camden’s libraries deliver a good service and it is here that all should have been revealed – good and bad. It is a measure of the interest that the committee has in the subject that there is still no clear idea what is being proposed.
However, you will be pleased to know that the chair of the committee is well satisfied with its performance. So, everything must be all right then and we should not worry our little heads about it.
Chair, Camden Public Libraries Users Group, NW6
Extra hours

MIKE Katz’s letter (What price public service/ July 30) demonstrates clearly why it is that he has so often contested elections unsuccessfully for the Labour Party in Camden since 2002.
It is full of misinformation and political spin both of which have become the hallmarks of “New Labour” since 1997 and explains why so many long-time Labour supporters have become disillusioned.
I take one example.
Mr Katz claims that the Liberal Democrats have cut library hours and money for library books when, in fact, since 2006 the council have increased both.
Our most recent increase in library hours this year was of 45 extra hours per week across the borough. A sharp contrast, I dare to suggest, to the previous Labour administration , who, those of you with long memories will recall, were within weeks of closing several libraries.
A threat which was only averted at the eleventh hour by a coalition of defiant councillors and angry library users with the backing of the local press. Mr Katz appears to have a selective memory, is misinformed or is “economical with the actualité”.
Executive Member for Culture

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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