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Friday, 4 September 2015

Flytipping Increase in Brent

The Evening Standard recently published a piece on flytipping, which appears to be increasing across the country.  Brent is cited as having the worst increase, at 84%, although it is still not as bad as several other London Boroughs.

I suggested when Brent adopted its new Public Realm Contract that it would need careful monitoring.  The new contract had a number of imaginative ways to improve waste and street cleaning services whilst lowering costs.  However, effective monitoring was essential.  I suspect Brent's recent decision to abolish its Environment Department was not an aid to more effective monitoring.  Brent Council needs to work out how it is going to effectively respond to whatever it is that is causing the increase in flytipping.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Mural Art at Willesden Library

At Willesden Library this morning, and delighted to see that the mural art at the front of the building is almost finished.  It is too big for one photo so I took two:

You can see that it covers the whole of the back of the 1894/1980s fragment, and adds some welcome colour to a fairly black & white interior.

I think community art projects like this have a value out of all proportion to the cost, and leave a permanent legacy.  This and the earlier Positive Arts project were things I pushed for in the design phase.  Sadly, this sort of thing is likely to become less common as budgets are shrunk tighter and tighter.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Willesden Library Opening Ceremony

Willesden Library is having an official opening ceremony on Saturday 12 September.  I find Brent Council's habit of staging opening ceremonies long after the facilities have actually opened (In this case about a month and a half) rather odd.  I certainly hope that the ceremony is not as extravagant as the official opening of the Civic Centre.  What might be more worth while would be a publicity campaign to make sure that residents are actually aware that The Library at Willesden Green is now available for them to use.  Given that the builders are still at work in the surrounding area, I am not sure that the public are fully aware the of the new facilities. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Lecture Room at Willesden Library

Another feature of the new Willesden Library that makes it superior to the old one is the lecture theatre.  The old Willesden Library had spaces that were used for meeting rooms, but they suffered from two disadvantages.  One was the lack of tiered seating, which meant that if you were sitting behind a tall person you could not see anything.  The other was the pillars which also blocked the view if you were in the wrong place.  The quality of the new building is simply much higher than the old. 

Monday, 31 August 2015

Amateurisation of Public Libraries

Leon's Library Blog has an interesting piece on the Amateurisation of Public Libraries.  CILIP, the official body for librarians, has come firmly against community managed libraries, particularly because of job substitution of paid staff.  That is, I would think, a fairly obvious f0or any kind of trade union to do. 

Brent is actually quite unusual in this respect.  Most authorities where there have been cuts to the libraries budget (which by now is pretty much all of them) have chosen to offer a "Big Society" route.  When Brent was mulling its proposals, this was part of the zeitgeist created by the newly elected coalition government.  Brent considered that option, but rejected it because it by no means clear that that would save money.  Many other authorities _ Surrey, Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire and many others _ have embraced it.    People opposed to library cuts in those areas have therefore tended to oppose volunteer libraries as inevitably inadequate.

In Brent, after the handing over of public assets was rejected, founding volunteer libraries became the main focus of the campaign including the legal challenge where the Judge confirmed the Council's position.  One group, Barham, appear to have succeeded in running a library cum bookshop on Wembley High Road on a stand alone basis.  Two more, Cricklewood and Kensal Rise, have plans to run some sort of facilities on the former library sites.  Again, these are independent of Council control.  The last group still hoping to run some sort of library (although I would suggest calling it a "library" is likely to mislead) is the Preston group.  This is still aiming to get substantial Council support, a level of support that I think is highly unlikely to be granted.  

The great danger in handing over a library to volunteers is that is continues to rely on the Council for funding and various other kinds of support.  This can become a substantial drain on library services that are already under pressure.  I am sure that if Brent had gone down the route of supporting the various voluntary groups that wanted to run their own libraries, officers would not have been able to deliver the level of success that the Libraries Transformation Project has attained. 


A somewhat off-topic comment below.  As I have explained before, Brent Council did not "give away" a building.  To do so would have been unlawful.  It was legally obliged to hand the former Kensal Rise Library building to All Souls College.  The full details on this subject can be found here.   

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Automatic Library Cards Again

Scotland has launched a scheme for automatic library cards, which has an obvious superficial appeal.  Two things surprise me about this scheme.

The first is the funding level _ a mere £80,000.  The report doesn't describe what that buys, but across Scotland's 32 local authorities, it can't be much.  A city like Edinburgh, with a population of about half a million won't really notice a few thousand pounds.

The second surprise is that there is no mention of other automatic library card schemes in Wales and in England, of which Brent has one.  The evaluation of these pilots showed that success was not as easy as one might think.  In particular, they need a lot of follow up if they are really going to work.  That means staff time and resources.  There is something wrong with our political culture that looking at the evidence just doesn't seem to be a natural part of our policy making.  That is a major reason why our public bodies often make mistakes unnecessarily.