I popped into Hammersmith Library last week to look up some local information. I went upstairs to, what I thought, was the reference section only to discover that the shelves were completely bare and the tables, where people once sat to read, had been taken over by banks of computers. This was always the busiest part of the library and when I visited I counted no more than a handful of people sitting at computers.
Disappointed, I went downstairs to the issue desk and asked what had happened to the reference section. A member of staff was first reluctant to say anything (such is the culture of fear among council staff). Undeterred I repeated the question. “The books have gone to Westminster”, she replied. I was horrified. “There are some reference books on that shelf”, she added as she gestured towards a single bookcase that held the rump of the once-proud reference section. “No thanks, I’ll pass”, I said and left feeling rather annoyed.
You may recall that many of Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s functions have now been merged with the neighbouring borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the City of Westminster, both of which are Conservative-controlled authorities. The reference materials, it seems, are not available to those of us who live in the borough from whence they were taken. I cannot become a member of Westminster Central Library because I do not live there. Nor am I aware of a reciprocal arrangement between the libraries of the three merged councils. If there is such an arrangement, the Council has not made anyone aware of it.
Hammersmith Library is an old Carnegie Library and it is one of many that are dotted around London. As we all know, the Tory-led government has cut funding for local government and as a result, some of the more zealous right-wing councils have slashed library budgets with a sort of enthusiasm that is redolent of an axe-wielding mass murderer. Indeed the attitude that many Tories hold towards public libraries is one of philistinism. It’s as if to say, “If you can’t afford your own books, why should we pay for them”? This rather misses the point, but then we cannot expect pathologically selfish people to understand the benefits of a decent public library system and their important function within the community.
I get the feeling that, for all its talk, this government and their followers want an illiterate and uneducated public who will then be easier to manipulate and control. The unspoken dictum here appears to be “Know your place”. The Orwellian phrase “Ignorance is strength” also seems apposite.
As for H&F council, it is doing all it can to destroy local communities in order to make this a borough for the rich, because the rich don’t use public libraries. They can afford to buy as many books as they like.
UPDATE: 3/4/12 @ 1839
I saw this on “Residents First”. The Tories tell us that Hammersmith Library is due to be “revamped”. I suspect this means that there will be more computers installed. Computers represent an income stream for the council. While most ocuncils offer free Internet, LBHF only offers the first half hour for free.
However there is some clarity regarding the library usage across the three boroughs.
In addition to the huge cash saving, the agreement means that residents have access to around one million books across all three boroughs, hundreds of entertainment and cultural events and scores of weekly skills and education classes.
I find the tabloidese used here rather amusing, “huge cash saving” which when translated means rationalization or redundancies.