Camden News
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
Published: 6 August 2009
Library reform squad don’t use book service, survey reveals

SHE takes out six books a week and has read roughly 10,000 books in half a century – a third of the loans collection in her local library.
Her favourite read is a crime novel or a thriller, and she finishes them all – even the bad ones.
But book-borrowing champion Liberal Democrat councillor Flick Rea, the woman with the final say over the future of the borough's libraries, has been revealed as an anomaly among her colleagues at the council.
The New Journal has found that out of seven members of a Town Hall committee which has agreed to advance plans for an overhaul of Camden’s libraries, barely one of them uses the service to borrow books.
Plans are afoot to whizz up libraries by cutting down on library staff in favour of self-service machines and shifting emphasis away from book borrowing and towards high-tech multimedia services.
Library staff will be given roving roles, in a £1.5million makeover, to speak to people as they browse the shelves, asking them if they want help.
Critics say the people who are ordering the changes – bar Cllr Rea – aren’t versed in the traditional delight of book loans.
The New Journal asked each councillor on the Culture and Environment Scrutiny Panel, and few of them had troubled their borrowing accounts in recent months or years.
As the boxes above show, Lib Dem councillor Nick Russell has not borrowed a book in more than 10 years, while his colleague Linda Chung mainly uses libraries for calm contemplation.
Cllr Rea, in contrast, said she borrowed six books a week – that's around 300 a year – and read them all.
She said: “If I’ve taken it out its my duty to finish it – 99 out of 100 books I read to the end. If it’s not very good I’ll skip to the end.”
But she added: “Growing Your Library – it is largely an internal reorganisation, it’s not about cutting hours or closing libraries. It’s about a method of operation.”
She argued that she had increased the bookstock fund and opened libraries for longer hours, adding: “I’ve done a lot for libraries – they need a defence and I’ve scratched and fought for them.”
Nevertheless, the proposed changes have set library users who are happy with the service – and feel the council is intruding – against modernisers who want to attract more people through the door.
Dame Joan Bakewell, the broadcaster who lives in Primrose Hill and has often written about her fondness for libraries, said the proposed changes were “another nail in the coffin of human relationships”.
Dame Joan, who uses Chalk Farm library, said: “I like people and a relationship with people in this community – not machines.”
She also called on the panel with final say to be made up of library users rather than politicians who are not regular library goers.
“The people who care about libraries are the people who use them – there’s no point going to a garage if the people there don’t know anything about cars,” she said.
The changes are expected to be ratified in two months.
Alan Templeton, the chairman of the Camden Libraries Users Group, said: “I think you could almost put that group of people [councillors] in to the non-users group.
“As representatives of the people of Camden, surely they should be interested in what the library service intends to do. If it just acts as a rubber stamp, it isn’t a scrutiny committee.”

So, councillor, when did you last borrow a library book?
Um, er, maybe 10 years ago?

Cllr Flick Rea
Cllr FLICK REA (Lib-Dem)

Uses St Pancras and West Hampstead libraries twice a week. Takes out up to six books a week. ‘I probably take out as many books as the other councillors do put together. I read books when I’m in the bath, eating, walking, on the bus, on the train, between meetings, in bed, at breakfast.’ Cllr Rea is pictured here in Swiss Cottage Library using its new free wi-fi laptop service.

Cllr Sue Vincent

Uses Holborn Library to check reference books. Last took a book out more than a year ago. ‘I don’t have time to read books – I struggle with all the council papers.’

Cllr Julian Fulbrook

Works at the British Library of Political and Economic Science, last took out a book on law. Doesn’t read fiction. Used to take his children to Holborn library but ‘I don’t go much any more’.

Cllr Linda Chang
Cllr LINDA CHANG (Lib Dem)

Goes to Swiss Cottage and Heath libraries practically every week. Doesn’t take books out but uses space for ‘peace and quiet’ and reference.

Cllr Nick Russell

Uses West Hampstead and Swiss Cottage and Kentish Town two to three times a week, for reference and quiet working. Hasn’t taken a book out in 10 years. ‘I do use libraries but not for book borrowing.’

Cllr Rebecca Hossack

Doesn’t have a library card. Last borrowed a book when she was a student in the 1970s and 1980s. Owns thousands of books. ‘Books have an incredible presence. They teach in a way multimedia can’t.’

Cllr Libby Campbell

Uses Camden Town and Primrose Hill libraries twice a week. Takes her 14-month old son to Rhymetime where they play with books. Last borrowed a book more than a year ago. ‘I don’t really take books out, we just play with them there.’

Cllr Matt Sanders

Uses Queen’s Crescent and Kentish Town libraries for reference books, CDs and DVDs. Rarely borrows books . ‘I pop in to check the new release section on the CDs quite a lot.’
Last loans: Kylie Minogue CD, The Rough Guide To Wales.

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)





Your comments:


Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions