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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Have Brent Volunteer Libraries Reached a Dead End?

I was involved in a twitter exchange about Brent libraries with some one who thinks that Brent has three volunteer libraries actually operating.  This is not so.

There are four groups that want to operate libraries in Brent.  The one closest to doing so is the so called "Barham Library", which is operated by former councillor Paul Lorber and other Liberal Democrat sympathisers.  It is not clear whether it is actually lending books or selling them.  If you sell books, in my opinion you are a bookshop, not a library.  The stated aim of the group is to take over the former Council building in Barham, but as this has now been leased for 15 years to ACAVA, this seems unlikely.

The other three groups are linked to sites in Kensal, Cricklewood and Preston.  The former Kensal Rise library is now in private ownership.  The owner is trying to sell it, leaving the site in limbo until is becomes clear who the new owner is and what they want to do with it.  The Cricklewood site is also in private ownership, and has planning permission to convert to housing combined with a community space.  It is not clear what the community space might be or when a conversion might occur.  Again the owner has put the building on the market, so the eventual outcome depends on the will of the new owner.

This leaves the former Preston building.  I have pointed out that there are a number of obstacles to developing this building as a library.  It is not clear whether these include asset of community value status

All this is to my mind something of a distraction from the successes of the Brent Libraries Transformation Project.  The last stage in this will be the opening of the new Willesden Library Centre in the Summer.  Hopefully Willesden Library will become as great a success as Wembley Library now is.  That would be the crowning glory of the strategy. 

Would Volunteer Libraries Help?
Those who are still hoping to form community managed or volunteer libraries really just never accepted the strategy in the first place.  I recall one member of one of the campaign groups even claiming that the judge had decided against the Council even though the published Judgement shows that is nonsense. 

The danger is that such groups could seek to persuade the Council to rewrite its winning formula to suit their own desires for voluntary libraries.  It is not commonly appreciated that these may actually have extra costs.  One example would be in technology and book stock.  But there are various other ways in which extra voluntary libraries, far from adding to a service, actually drain resources from it in terms of management expertise, training and so on.  So I hope that if the Council tries that route it is mindful not to damage the existing Brent Library service in the process.  After all, by now Brent Libraries are probably some of the most improved in the country.


There have been a couple of comments to this which I have not published as they are both libellous and personally offensive.  That is my usual practice.  If you don't like it, feel free to go elsewhere.

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