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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.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Escher Exhibition

The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art is hosting an impressive exhibition on the art of M C Escher.  I went to it on a recent trip to Edinburgh and it is well worth seeing. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The New Life of Brent Town Hall

Martin Francis has an interesting preview of the new French School in Wembley here.  It certainly sounds as if the architects have gone to great lengths to preserve some of the character of the original building.  This was the intention of the Planning Committee when we gave planning permission.  As the building had listed status, and is indeed a Pevsner building, preserving its character was of great importance.  We also imposed a condition to seek to maximise community access of the facilities.

Finally, I am glad to hear that the former Town Hall library looks beautiful.  According to the plans as they were when planning permission was granted it will be used as a library for the school, although of course the pupils will also be able to access the excellent Wembley library at the nearby Civic Centre. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Children Library at Willesden Library Centre

I have published quite a lot of photos of the new Willesden Library Centre, which in many ways is the culmination of Brent's Libraries Transformation Project.  Oddly, this hasn't included the children's section, which takes up most of the ground floor.

This is certainly far larger than the children's library in the old Willesden Library Centre.  It also has a far more open frontage, as you can see here:

The new children library, like Wembley Library before it, also has a number of ipads set up as well as a broader range of facilities than the old library.

Really, I think it is one of the many features which makes the argument that the new library is greatly superior to the old frankly undeniable.

Monday, 24 August 2015

One Stop Shop in Willesden Library

These are some of the PCs that have replaced the former One Stop Shop in the old Willesden Library and after that Harlesden Job Centre.  Apart from the initial phase, the area has been unstaffed and is likely to remain so.  I am not sure that an unstaffed facility really has much value.  I understand that many people prefer to use the Civic Centre facilities as they can ask for staff advice if they don't understand something.  I therefore wonder whether these PCs are at some stage going to be replaced with general public access PCs.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Brent Council and the Right to Buy

One of the many disastrous consequences of the Tories winning the last General Election is the extension of the Right to Buy.  Brent Council has a report tomorrow on how it intends to spend the proceeds of these sales.  The government's stated aim is for one to one replacement, but I don't think anyone in the housing sector believes this likely. 

Indeed, the policy undermines Council Housing in a fundamental fashion.  By reducing the number of properties of BHP it cuts its income.  Since the Council can only use 30% of the receipts for new build, it makes it very hard to provide housing directly, and realistically some sort of third partner is need to make up the slack.  The result is likely to be a winding down of Council housing until it ceases to exist entirely. 

I wonder what5 John Wheatley, the founder of British Council Housing would have thought.  Indeed I wonder what the many Tory politicians involved in pushing Couyncil House building, such as Chamberlain, Macmillan and Sir Keith Joseph would have thought. 

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Willesden Library Goes from Strength to Strength

I understand that in its first two week s of operation, Willesden Library had about 17,000 visits.  That compares to an average of just over ten thousand during an average fortnight for the interim services.  However I am confident that, like Wembley Library, it will build up over time. 

This is because at first opening, many of its features were not in place.  Since then it has opened its archive, art gallery and quiet study area.  The performance space has now been completed.  That and a number of other spaces are now available for hire.  I am not sure whether that includes the lecture theatre.  As more and more events are held people will become used to using the new centre and that should drive up usage.  Similarly, the Brent Museum is currently not fully functioning in terms of its interactive exhibits.  Once they are available, that should again drive more usage.  Again, finishing the building work around the library should be helpful, as I believe builder's debris outside a site tends to put people off going in.  The last big thing needed for the centre will be the new cafe, which is due to sell Fairtrade products as part of its procurement criteria.  That will help create a welcoming atmosphere of the kind you can find at Wembley Library. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Brent Archives at Willesden

As well as the new Brent Museum, Willesden Library also see the return of the Brent Archive (pictured above).  Many local authorities are now abandoning archive services. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

What do the Opponents of Willesden Library Think?

Now that the new Willesden Library is open, I wonder what the numerous opponents of it think?  As well as those who opposed the whole Brent Libraries Transformation Project from the start, there were a number of people who bitterly opposed the Willesden Library rebuild specifically.  You can see some of them in the photo above, which I have taken from the Keep Willesden Green site

The campaign, which generated rather more heat than light, involved a range of accusations, many of them false.  It also led to a number of imaginative legal objections, quite separate from the Brent Libraries Judgement, including a Town Green application and several claims that the planning process had not been followed.  I always find it slightly bemusing that the redevelopment of buildings so often attracts appeals to often obscure laws and covenants.  There seems to be something rather mesmerizing about appeals to arcane laws. 

Still, I wonder what all these people now think of the new library? Does it live down to their expectations, or is actually a very good public facility delivered in the teeth of Tory government cuts?


Once again, comments to this post seem to fail to differentiate between some one discussing an issue and an "attack".  There was a lot of misinformation put out about the new Willesden Library plans when it had yet to be decided.  I just wondered whether the people who opposed the new library still oppose it.  For instance there was a claim that the area at the back would be a dark and dingy "mugger's alley".  Now that people can actually see the width of the alley, does anyone still believe that?

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Return of the Brent Museum

The return of the Brent Museum to Willesden Green is a great step forward.  I think the new Museum is actually better than the old one.  One of the features I like are the small items encased in the banisters around the lightwell, such as this one of former Mayor Len Snow:

They serve to draw the visitor up to the main exhibition on the second floor.  Whoever thought of that had a really good idea.

The new exhibition strikes me as well laid out and interesting, but still more interesting is the current exhibition on Gujarat, which is well worth a look.  The old Museum had a good record of bringing interesting exhibitions such as the Gayer Anderson Cat, the Fabric of a Nation exhibition or the Ernest Trobridge exhibition.  Hopefully, this tradition will be regalvanised by the new building.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Willesden Library Exhibition Space Opens Today

Willesden Library's exhibition space has opened with its first art exhibition.Some of the finishing still looks rather rough, with the notice attached to a bare wall here:

Yet the space itself is quite spacious, and could contain a lot.

The theme of the first exhibition is urban loneliness

Altogether it strikes me as better than the spaces used in the old Willesden Library Centre, which were not purpose built.  The main space was simply a rectangular room.  There was also a wall in use in thye entrance hall, which was a good way to use an otherwise dead space, but had nothing special about it.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Quiet Area in Willesden Library

In yesterday's post, I may not have explained about the need for quiet areas in libraries.  As a universal service, libraries need to cater for users with different and sometimes conflicting needs.  People who need libraries for quiet study and noisy children are an obvious example.  Fortunately, the new Willesden Library has such a dedicated quiet area at the top. 

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Saved Willesden Library Fragment

One of the most controversial aspects of the original plans for the new Willesden Library Centre was the proposal to demolish the last fragments of the former 1894 building (pictured above).  Such was the outcry that Brent Council went back to the drawing board to fit the old building into the new Library that has just opened

This is full of ironies.  The 1894 fragment had not actually been part of the 1980s Library Centre at all.  In fact it was operated as an office by the Brent Irish Advisory Service (BIAS), a small charity.  Therefore it was not a public building at all.  Contrary to many people's impressions, it was not wholly a building from 1894.  In fact, about half of it was built in the 1980s when the Victorian building was demolished.

It is now incorporated into the new Library as a sort of semi-detached room.  BIAS used it as a two storey building, but the upper floor has been taken out to give a high ceilinged room, as you can see here:

I gather that in public consultation, no one actually identified a use for it, which should perhaps lead people to think about what they want to do when they campaign to "save" something.  I think it could be used as a performance space for book readings and the like.  This would have the disadvantage of separating the book reading from the actual books in the library.  Given that one of the prime functions of having a book reading from the library perspective is to encourage the audience to borrow books, this is not ideal.  Conversely, the room's isolation behind closed doors means that noise would not carry into the library as it sometimes does at, say, Kilburn Library which would help give a more flexible range of timings.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Benches by Furness Park

I was glad to see that the street benches by Furness Pocket Park were replaced recently.  This is what it used to look like:

And this is what it now looks like:

Much nicer, but it would be good if the whole area by the park could be cleaned up with some consistent paving and street furniture.  This would help enhance the park itself

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Barnardos and Brent Children Centres

I am glad to see that Brent Council has reached a deal with Barnardos to keep Children Centres open across the Borough.  The Tory government's cuts is forcing many other authorities to close many of their children centres, so the Barnardo option is an imaginative way around it.  It would be interesting to have more detail as to how the scheme works, but it shows that Brent officers can still respond to problems imaginatively.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Willesden Library Brondesbury Park Frontage

The new Willesden Library is now up and running, but still far from finished.  Aside from all the building work still going on around the place, parts of the Centre itself are still empty.  Nonetheless, I am sure it will develop well over time.  One easy win would be some window displays on the Brondesbury Park frontage.  This would have been impossible in the old 1980s library, but should be entirely viable with the new building.

The former library had a really poor relationship with the surrounding streets, as can be seen from the photos to be found on this site.  Actually I think the graffiti shown actually improved the look of the old building, especially on the Grange Road frontage.  Now, however, we have the new building which will look outward, and (in so doing) help attract people to all the activities within.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Sticking to the Rules

I hope that whatever happened with the Kids Company is properly investigated.  It certainly looks like politicians over riding legitimate financial checks as a result of favouritism.  If so, I hope the relevant ministers get due punishment.  It should also be a reminder of how important these kind of rules are.  I often get the impression that some groups think that if they call themselves "community" or "volunteer" somehow financial rules shouldn't apply.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Shared Surface Around Willesden Library Centre

I have argued before that the area around Wembley Library is actually capable of being used for complementary activities in what is effectively a kind of co-location.  I have similar hopes of the areas currently being paved at the back and on the Grange Road side of Willesden Library. Hopefully, this will assuage the concerns of those who supported the Town Green application

The Grange Road side looks closer to completion, although it is still being paved:

The area should accommodate some disabled parking, but it is also (like part of Harlesden Town Centre) is a shared surface scheme so that the kerb level is quite limited.

A similar flexibility will be possible in the area at the back.  Once the Cafe is let (which be located at the back on the Brondesbury Park side), I imagine it will will want to use that area for outside paving.

Incidentally, the cafe is obliged by its procurement criteria to sell Fairtrade goods.  I hope that they will be publicized better than in the equivalent cafe in Wembley Library.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Willesden Library Learning from Brent Civic Centre

The new Willesden Library Centre is now up and running, although it is still just the Library and the rebuilt Brent Museum with a lot of building work continuing in the surroundings (see below).  This is not so different from the early period of Wembley Library which has subsequently become such a great success.  A period of snagging on big projects such as these is inevitable. 

I am glad to see that lessons seem to have been learnt from the early stages of the Civic Centre, with both water dispensers and signage installed from the beginning this time.  The example below is from the lift.  Nonetheless, I think a bit more will have to emerge.  For example, the customer service bit is far from obvious as you come in.  A friend of mine went all the way to the top and down again before finding it on the ground floor.

Many of the lessons from the Civic Centre seem quite slight.  For example, the early stages of Brent Civic Centre problems with light carpets being soiled.  The carpets in Willesden Library Centre are much darker, and I gather they are carpet tiles rather than carpets, which means that darkly stained areas can be more easily removed.  Similarly I understand that the chairs are easier to clean.

That might seem quite trivial, but it can make a big difference to library users.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Brent Council's Ongoing Employment Issues

Martin Francis' blog Wembley Matters, whilst often unfairly negative about Brent Council and openly politically partisan, has done a good service in highlighting concerns about certain employment practices in the Council.  These have largely centred on the Rosemarie Clark case.

His most recent posts highlight an extremely unusual semi-public statement by Cllr Butt on the issue.

In fact, he kind of problems that have been a concern to me since 2012, and in my view go well beyond the individuals concerned and damage the whole organisation.  It would be much less worrying if the Clarke case were indeed the only instance, but it is not.  I have mentioned these problems a number of times.  I think it is unlikely that the Council will be able to "move forward" as he puts it until these matters have been credibly and publicly investigated.  

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Registering to Vote in Brent

Letters are already going out in Brent to register to vote.  This is especially important as the register for this year will be used as the baseline for drawing up constituency boundaries.  More information about registering is to be found here

Saturday, 1 August 2015

WLWA Progresses Energy from Waste Plant

West London Waste Authority (WLWA) committed to diverting virtually all its waste from landfill back in 2013.  Instead the waste will go to an Energy from waste plant in the West of England.  It recently released an update.  This will be an even more dramatic change across the whole of waste management in West London, than the introduction of Alternate Weekly Collections which is now being imitated by Ealing