Friday 3 February 2012

Why my library needs saving

Because I'm made that way, I suppose, I do kind of collect new kinds of organisations, especially if they seem to pre-figure the future.  One such is the Upper Norwood Library.

It is red brick and 111 years old (I believe Bilbo Baggins was also eleventy-one at the beginning of The Hobbit).  There are computers, but it hasn't been taken over by the boneheaded technocrats and cleared out of books altogether.  It is always lively.  But what is really interesting about it is that it is independent, run by a local board and funded jointly by the two London boroughs on either side of the building, Lambeth and Croydon.

Partly as a result of this independence, it is much loved, much used and considerably cheaper to run than the libraries surrounding it.  It is also an innovative structure of the kind that the Cabinet Office is keen on for the future of public services.

You would think then that the surrounding boroughs would be proud of their creation.  In fact, Croydon is now considering closing it down.

I ask myself sometimes, as I stare out of my bedroom window across the soulless and largely unoccupied towers that Croydon Council have given permission to, what is the matter with local government here.  Croydon has embraced the most old-fashioned, least effective means of regeneration - high rise property, surrounded by empty offices, which cast a blight on the area.  It is the Clone Town connoisseurs' clone town, the very opposite of the distinctive and thriving place it could be.

So perhaps it isn't surprising that they are considering vandalising my library.  I hope before they do that the Cabinet Office studies it, because it may provide some clues about providing library services in an era of austerity - everywhere else apart from Croydon.

I'm drawing the attention to my friends in the Cabinet Office now, before it is too late.  But, hey, let's look on the bright side.  It is possible that Croydon may decide after all to be on the side of the future.

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