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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Closing Library Buildings

Public Libraries News has a post suggesting that sometimes closing a library building is the best choice available.  This is an argument I have been making for some years

The location, quality and status of individual libraries is the result of decisions made over many decades for all sorts of reasons.  In Brent, for example, libraries were founded between the 1890s and 1950s in a number of places.  No doubt at the time finance and other contingencies played their part.  Since that time important facts have changed, such as the distribution of population.

I think the piece is wrong, however, to suggest that a lack of protest necessarily means that the library is not needed, or that the presence of vociferous protests necessarily means a particular building is vital.  Unfortunately some kinds of community, that may have the greatest need, are least prone to protesting.  Other areas with less need can be full of articulate people who are good at mobilizing protests.  Simply being driven by the number of protests could lead to some very skewed decisions.

Another curiosity that struck me during the passage of Brent's Libraries Transformation Project is that people often protest vicariously.  Many times I encountered people who said things along the lines of "I don't use libraries much but it is important for group X."  This opinion being based on gut instinct rather than the kind of assessment that the High Court judge described as "rigorous" and "thorough".  Ignoring such an assessment in order to placate protest groups would have meant that the Council would not have achieved the success that Brent Libraries now have

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