Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Libraries on BBC's Inside Out

Last night's Inside Out had a piece concerning the threatened cuts to London libraries. It looks straightforward enough but I barely know where to begin. The piece is almost old school propaganda. In the context of the editing of the film, councils are the big bad wolves looking to blow in the libraries, whilst the BBC are complicit in selling the government as the good guys, not only blameless in the demise of the library but also ready to step in and take on councils that are about to shut them down.

Of course Vaizey is keen on 'social entrepreneurship' which is the personal and collective basis of the Big Society movement. This is a case of people donating their books, computers, DVDs, CDs and crucially, their time and expertise for free. The altruism and social benefit of an open library are not to be sneered at. But this is not the point. Provision of the infrastructure, media and services should not be a 'social entrepreneur's' bright idea. They should be an obligation of a governing body, which, yes, does mean the council, but that should be promoted and protected by the government. And Catherine Bennett memorably - and accurately - described the process of substituting council service professionals for willing volunteers as 'organised scabbing', surely something the government should keep its nose out of.

There was one ray of light during the programme which was to highlight the work of Tower Hamlet's Ideas Stores, which thrives through community consultation. Clearly, councils and the libraries themselves need to be continually vigilant to make sure that they are providing the type and level of service that the public expect. But when publicly funded broadcasts cast aspersions and apportion blame like Soviet-period declarations it becomes increasingly difficult to work out exactly what that might be. 

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