Monday, 24 April 2017

Code Seven: The destruction of Barnet Libraries


The former children's library in Hendon, created by pioneering children's librarian, Eileen Colwell: now gutted, to make space for rented office space ...

There was an Audit meeting, one night last week, at Hendon Town Hall: a meeting of some interest to Mrs Angry, as a report had gone to the committee admitting that, four years into the contract with Capita, there were serious failings in their management of health and safety compliance - an issue which became clear when investigating the story, featured in previous posts, regarding the contamination of water in our local library buildings. 

The legionella and bacterial test results scare, kept quiet for reasons we have yet to establish, was a development that might appear to be almost inevitable as a result of the contracted out enforcement of health and safety breaches to the same company responsible for the maintenance of these neglected properties. The library buildings are part of a service that has been deliberately de-funded, and down graded, over the years, in order to justify the massive programme of devastating cuts now in place.

Many Barnet libraries, of course, are now closed for several months, subjected to a shock and awe campaign of assault, and 'restructuring', as a result of the Tory councillors' scheme, one which has already seen the mass sacking of staff, to be largely replaced by the introduction of a DIY, unstaffed library system. 

The prolonged period of closure will also enable the part of each library which is still to be used as - well, a library -  (if that is what you can call it) to be created in a corner of its former home, like an occupying army taking over your house, and allowing you to live in the garden shed, or under the stairs. 

These newly 'refurbished' libraries will be part of a corporate lie equivalent to the contemporary property developers' adoption of 'facadism', in which beautiful and historic properties in the way of profit are demolished, behind one remaining front facing wall, to allow developers to give a nod in the way of 'heritage', and gain planning permission for the destruction of the rest of the building.

In Barnet, our Tory councillors are well aware of the political impact of library cuts on their electoral well being. They have therefore formulated their own form of 'facadism', and tried to pretend that they have 'saved' all our libraries from closure, and indeed extended the service, by increasing accessibility.

This is of course a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. 

What remains in many of the former library buildings does not equate to the definition of a proper public library service, and access to library services, for most people, but especially the young, the elderly and disabled, our most vulnerable residents, will most certainly be severely affected.

Before the Audit meeting last week, Mrs Angry took the opportunity to take a look at Hendon Library, which stands right next to the Town Hall. 

This building was once the central library in the borough: with three floors, a fully staffed reference library, a music library, local history archives - and a wonderful children's library. 

It now stands with doors firmly shut, closed until September, a period during which it must endure the onslaught of corrective restructuring which will turn it into a token service, on only half of the ground floor. 

This was supposedly in order to be able to rent out the rest of the library building to Middlesex Uni - although rumour now has it that the university has pulled out of the deal.


The doors may be shut, but Mrs Angry, undeterred, decided to tiptoe through the tulips in the flower beds - still lovingly managed around this particular library, for fear of offending the Tory councillors next door - and peer through the windows, to see what was happening inside. 

What was happening inside ... came as a genuine shock: like a punch to the stomach.

A desolate sight: a library robbed of books, with empty shelves, and worse: as in the children's library, in which a portrait of Eileen Colwell, the pioneer of children's libraries looked on in horror; lines of shelves marked with sinister signs - CODE 7. 

Sinister, if you know what Code 7 means. 

And if you don't, read this letter published in the local 'Barnet Press', written by a former library worker who left at the end of last month, along with the other 46% of staff considered surplus to requirements, having given so many years loyal service to a job she loved, working with the public, in a public library: 


Let's be clear: the stock which is being culled from your local libraries is not just unsold donated material, but a vast number of library books in perfectly good condition. They are being removed because the newly shrunk libraries (except in the Tory stronghold of  Chipping Barnet, funnily enough) will have no room for them.

Where are these books going, and what is happening to them? 

Last month, a concerned parent living in East Finchley asked senior officers to explain:

Firstly, I’d like to reassure you that we will not be removing stock from East Finchley library in any volume as it will be returning to the library ready for reopening in July. We will only be removing stock which is in poor condition or which contains out of date information. This is something we do regularly to ensure children have access to books which are attractive, accurate and meet the needs of the current National Curriculum. We do not feel that is appropriate to offer poor condition or out of date stock which we have categorised for removal from the council’s stock, to a school. Instead, we generate income to invest in new stock for our libraries through sending stock that is in a reasonable condition but no longer required to our charity partner for which we receive a financial payment. This recycling process enables us to maintain good quality and relevant stock across our libraries. Removing this recycling process would impact on the quality of stock available to all.

The parent in question had asked for the children's books to be lent to local schools while the library was closed (in fact this will now be at least until August): a sensible suggestion, but this request was refused.

Let's look at all this in closer detail.

First of all the statement: 'we will not be removing stock from East Finchley in any volume'. 

Really? And does this apply to all branches, (except Chipping) - a merely minimal removal of stock? 

At a meeting in March last year, in answer to a public question, the council stated the stock of 445,000 books was to be cut by 12%. 

This is in addition to any routine 'weeding'. But this figure was given around the time of the catastrophic Capita run library IT system crash, which saw a massive loss of data relating to stock, as well as borrower details. Much of this was irretrievably lost. The stock had to be manually re-entered onto the system. We do not know how much was lost, or not re-entered - or trashed. 

And archived FOI responses on the council's own website demonstrate that since 1999-2000, the level of stock has already been halved - from a total of 865,558. 

More admissions to the parent in East Finchley here, taken from a FOI response which picked on an earlier one, that referred to a 'charity partner': 

Q: How many books are sent each year to the 'charity partner'?

A: Between 2014 and 2017 (to date) a total of 60,481 books have been either recycled,
reused or sold via our partner organisation.

Q: Who is the charity partner?

A: The organisation is called Better World Books.

Q: How much revenue is received from the charity partner each year ? Is it
possible to break this down by individual library within Barnet?

A: Between 2014 and 2017 (to date) the library service has received £2,996.89 for the
sale of items through Better World Books. It is not possible to break this down by

library.

Q: Please can you indicate how many books last year were removed from
circulation and not sent to the charity partner (presumably due to not being in
'reasonable condition').


This data is not held.

Note that what had been a 'charity partner', in the first response, has now become a 'partner organisation'. That clarification was necessary, it would seem, because 'Better World Books', of course, is not a charity, but an American founded commercial company, that states it directs 10% of its revenue to charitable causes. 

£3,000, in three years, raised from the sale of books is not terribly impressive: very disappointing that for some reason there is no data available to tell us how many of the removed books were not sent to Better World Books, but the evidence suggests that the bulk of the 60,000+ books may well have been dumped. 

And that was before the cull demanded by the new cuts regime.

And that new regime is being rolled out now. Some libraries now have the 'technology enabled' DIY, pin entry, staffless hours timetable in place.

Mrs Angry thought it was time to test this out, last week. After a trip to the osteopath, in Barnet, it was a short walk - or rather a long hobble - to Chipping Barnet library, just around the corner.

At the service desk there was a queue of mums with babies in buggies. Mrs Angry tagged along at the end, and then sat down, with a polite smile, expressing a wish (clearly insincere) to sign up to the new robot libraries. With commendable diplomacy, the staff gave her the relevant forms, and a biro. (One of the staff members clocked who she was, took a deep breath, and turned round their ID badge, with the look of someone who was saying a silent prayer not to be identified in a post in this blog. Your wish is granted).

The forms asked some interesting questions: date of birth - OVER 16 and mind your own business, was the scrawled response, Mrs Angry not trusting Crapita with any personal data. 

Oh: do you consider you have a disability that could affect your ability to evacuate the building safely in the event of an emergency? Well, yes.

Hearing: tick.

Mobility: tick. 

Reduced ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects? Tick.

Learning disabilities: tick. (two specific learning difficulties).

Physical coordination: tick. (Dyspraxia). 

At the end of this confession, and probing questions which had an uneasy whiff of Capita benefit testing about them, Mrs Angry felt entirely unsure if she ought to be allowed out on her own, let alone left in an unstaffed library during an emergency, but there was no problem in signing up. It would seem they want to pretend to care about disability access, and safety, without actually doing anything about it. 

Ah: no, Mrs Angry - here is some advice, at the end of your 'Self -Service Opening, Essential User Guide' - (must remember to carry this with me at all times, when stuck in a library, with no one to hear me yelling for help: apart from that man in Swansea that is supposed to watch the cctv camera):


What to do in the event of an emergency'... dum di dum. Leave the building. Good idea. Don't go back into the building. Ditto. Oh. If the power fails, the emergency light will come on. Make your way to the exit and leave the building

What if I need help, to make my way to the exit, because I am disabled? 

Looking at the current opening details, here was an extraordinary admission, hidden away in the small print, in the information about Chipping Barnet library:

Please note there is no lift access to the first floor in Self Service Opening hours.

What?

Half of the book stock in this central library is held upstairs, on the first floor.

Yet library managers have now decided, as a matter of practice, to prevent the lift from working, whenever the library is unstaffed.

This means that any disabled, or elderly resident - or any parent with a child in a buggy - is unable to access any of the non fiction or other books on the upper level. 

I would say to make such a decision, as a matter of policy, is discriminatory, and I hope this will be challenged. 

What this says, however, is very interesting. The refusal to allow access to a lift is presumably the result of concern about the clear risk of individuals being trapped, unnoticed, while the library is unattended. 

But there are many other risks which are being ignored - such as those alluded to in the library service's own registration form, as described above, in regard to disabled users who might not be able to leave the building without assistance, in the case of an emergency. 

Oh, and - back to the users' guide: in the event of an incident in the library, you can contact the emergency services by using the phone located at the reception desk

Hmm. An incident. Dependent on your ability to do so, without placing yourself at further risk. 

The FOI response below, to a question about incidents requiring calls to the emergency services in one twelve month period, highlights the very real risk presented by events of this nature. 

Some of these types of incidents are very common, although not always leading to calls to any emergency service, or logged in this way - such as aggressive customers, users with mental health issues engaged in rows, etc - everyday occurrences. These incidents are mediated by staff, putting themselves at risk, in order to resolve the problem. 

What will happen now, either in the unstaffed libraries, or where untrained volunteers are left in charge?


The registration form implies that you will be on your own, in the new DIY libraries, in every sense - a disclaimer at the bottom of the page states:

As the building is unstaffed during Self-Service Opening hours, access to the library is made available by the council without responsibility to users. The council is not responsible for any theft, destruction or loss to your personal belongings or for any loss or damage suffered by you as a result of any cause beyond our control.

Oh. Not responsible for anything 'beyond our control'. Please define what is within your control?

But then it says:

We do not exclude or limit in any way out (sic) liability for death or personal injury caused by our negligence or for fraud or fraudulent misrepresentation.

In which case, I hold you, London Borough of Broken Barnet, responsible for the fraudulent misrepresentation of these unstaffed buildings as a public library.

After signing up for the DIY system, I had intended to test out the new technology, as soon as the unstaffed hours had begun. But on approaching the library, it was evident that the so called unstaffed branches are still being staffed, or at least monitored, by the attendance of senior library officers, in the cunning disguise of Barnet Libraries t shirts, hovering by the entrance, waiting to pounce on any poor resident turning up to use the library, not realising the changes, and to convert them to the joys of 'libraries' run with ... no staff.

It seems that, as they were during the pilot scheme, security officers have also been used to welcome visitors to the new robot libraries, as spotted by a keen eyed resident, via twitter:

Probably more people (inc 2 staff & 2 security guards) outside Chipping Barnet Library than inside as 'self service operation' starts.


Welcome to the unstaffed library: greeted outside by ... senior staff - managers & security

How much longer are they going to keep this up? Why are they so worried about leaving the libraries to function, unstaffed, as they intended? 

After taking the photographs of the ransacked interior of Hendon Library last week, I had stepped back from the windows, gingerly picking my way through the flower beds, back to the path outside the doors, when I noticed a mother and child standing outside the entrance, looking rather perplexed. 

The woman, wearing hijab, was holding the hand of her little boy, of about four years old. He was looking very disappointed.

She stopped me and asked if I knew why the library was closed. 

Her English was not perfect, but she was clearly determined to find out what was going on. I tried to explain, but she could not understand why the library was going to be shut for so many months, and then would be reduced to a fraction of its size, when it did eventually re-open. 

She lived in Brent Cross, she said, and this was their nearest library. Her son loved to come here: she did not know where else they could go. 

I could not think of any Barnet library that was nearby, and still open, or that was near to her, and easy to get to on a bus, with a small child. In the end she said  she thought she might try Swiss Cottage. Yes, I said: that's a good library. And in another borough, so likely to be still open. 

The truth is that for the next few months at least, gaining access to a public library, in Barnet, is going to be very difficult for everyone.

Four of my nearest libraries are now completely closed, until the summer, or longer: East Finchley, Golders Green, Hendon, North Finchley - and Osidge. Perfect timing for children and students preparing for exams: although of course there will be little space in the re-opened libraries to study, and children under 15 will not be allowed in at all into the unstaffed branches, without an adult.

On Saturdays, the day most popular with most users, in the whole of the borough now there are only four libraries open, with some staffing. By an extraordinary coincidence, three of these four branches ... are in staunchly Tory wards: Chipping, Church End, and Edgware. Who would believe it?

Of the so called 'partnership libraries', which are supposed to be run for the community by charitable concerns, none of them can be bothered to stay open for longer than three hours on a Saturday - and Childs Hill has decided not to bother at all. 

This may be a blessing in disguise, of course, as Mrs Angry is hearing tales of how deeply these volunteers are clearly out of their depth, for example responding to a query from someone needing legal support with the suggestion, not as would be provided by former library staff, as to where one might find free advice, but simply to 'go to a solicitor' ...

So what can we do about all this? Well, don't sit back and let them get away with it. 

Complain to the Tory councillors who approved this destruction of a vital service on the pretext of savings, while happily splurging money on Capita, consultants, agency workers, spin doctors, and gifts of half a million quid to the RAF Museum.

Complain to your Tory MPs, all of whom have sat back and allowed their colleagues on the council to press ahead with these devastating cuts. 

Of course they had not calculated on the timing of this general election - all of them now caught on the hop, with little public involvement to show in support of their communities - so long, as they thought, before the next hustings began. Oops. 

The last general election was at a time when the library proposals were at the first stages: yet the howl of protest from normally loyal, Tory voting constituents was a real source of concern for all three candidates. This snap GE, however, has been called just at the point when the cuts are beginning to become a very evident reality. 

So: don't let them get away with it: write to your MP, tell them what you think, and demand to know what they are going to do about it. 

Failing that, well: you might as well accommodate yourself to living in the age of Code 7: where books are not burned, but thrown in skips, and the face of your librarian has been replaced by the keypad of a self entry system:



Sunday, 2 April 2017

Barnet Libraries: The End






A defiant message of support from the children of Martin's School, East Finchley, to the library next door, that appeared on the last day of opening as a fully functional service


*Updated 6th April

Last night the eagle eye of fellow blogger 'Mr Mustard' fell upon a very interesting advert in London's Evening Standard paper:


This is the week in which two 'partnership' 'libraries' run by a charity, 'Inclusion Barnet', are supposed to begin their new lives, staffed by unpaid volunteers, taking over the jobs previously held by Barnet library workers, who were made redundant at the end of March.

Yet Inclusion Barnet is still trying to recruit volunteers to run these libraries, in an advert which appeared the day after South Friern was supposed to open, and two days before the East Barnet venture is meant to begin.

If they are struggling to find enough volunteers even before these pretend libraries are opened, how likely is it that they will be able to provide a permanent and reliable service of any sort? 

Highly unlikely, as is the pattern of all similar enterprises elsewhere.

In Barnet this all works to the advantage of those Tories who wanted to see the number of libraries drastically reduced, but lacked the political courage, the year before local elections, to be seen to shut branches (rather than kill them, as they have, by death through a thousand cuts), and have pretended that they are 'saving' all fourteen libraries. 

These partnership libraries, when they fail, which they will, will become the subject of handwringing by senior officers and Tory councillors, and will then be closed, with 'regret' - and the buildings put up for sale. 

Don't say you haven't been warned.

_______________________________________________________________


April Fools' Day came early, this year, in Broken Barnet, for a number of workers in our local library service. 

For half of them, in fact: the half who no longer have a job, as of yesterday.

These are the people who used to greet you with a smile at the counter, help you find the book you want, help your child with her homework, or show you how to use a pc, or maybe just engage in conversation with you. 

Some of these members of staff have worked for Barnet Libraries for twenty, thirty years or so, loving their jobs, despite working in an increasingly, and deliberately, underfunded, undervalued service because- they believe in the value of service. 

Earlier in the week, days before April 1st, an absolutely hilarious stunt was pulled by their soon to be former employers at Barnet Council, and was spotted at venues around the borough, and in the latest edition of the council's propaganda rag, 'Barnet First'.


Yes: even before the last library assistant had closed the door, for the last time, on one of the libraries about to be gutted, cut into pieces, turned into a DIY parody of whatever a library once was, our Tory masters and their newly acquired PR men wanted to boast about what they were going to do, now that they had put these people out of work. 

They could not resist the opportunity to roll out another line of attack in their new campaign: evangelising on behalf of the new self basting borough, all wrapped up in easycouncil plastic, ready for a roasting, next year at the local elections, one hopes.

Take a look at Barnet Council's twitter account profile picture. 


It shows a collection of middle class, middle aged people very kindly doing the council's work for them - maintaining one of our borough's parks and open spaces. 

The message to residents and taxpayers is clear. 

We are not here to provide public services. 

We are here to take your money, and waste it on private contractors to deliver, badly, and at inflated cost, most of the functions for which we are nominally responsible. 

We will take your money and spend it on endless ranks of senior officers, consultants, and agency staff. 

We will take your money and give it away to national museums with loads of funding, while closing our your only local museums, and now gutting your library service. 

We will also take your money and spend it on extra PR posts to manage the council's reputation, before next year's election. 

But we won't take your money and spend it on stuff we think we can persuade someone else to volunteer to do, and do for free. 

There you go: it's quite simple. We know these people can't actually replace the service itself, but we don't care. 


And that, readers, is how you have lost your library service. 

The Tory councillors in Barnet, who would not know one end of a book from another, and probably have rarely crossed the threshold of any library, do not understand the purpose of them, have no respect for the profession of librarianship, or care about the social value that libraries have. 

They see no contradiction in the lack of enthusiasm they have for volunteering their own increasingly pointless civic roles without the reward of generous allowances, and free parking permits. 

And they are easily persuaded by scheming officers and consultants with their eyes on the potential future profit in selling the buildings that the service can be torn apart, stuffed with volunteers, and allowed to decline to the point where closure, and sale is inevitable.

Funny, isn't it, that the neo-Thatcherites sitting on the Conservative benches in Hendon Town Hall, whose gilded heroine famously stated there was no such thing as 'society', who recoil at the idea of community, are so keen to promote their bastardised version of the concept, where people must come together, not to give support to each other, but to their council, even while they are paying that same council to do a job of work, on our behalf?


During the last few days I visited a few of our libraries, to say goodbye, take photographs, and think about what we were about to lose. It was an intensely sad experience. Sad, in a personal way, because these libraries had meant so much to me, especially in my childhood, but also when I worked there - and sad because of the way in which the library staff were being treated, especially those who were losing their jobs at the end of the week.

Staff members who have spent many years working for Barnet Libraries - and may struggle to find another job, because of their age - were left to empty their lockers & clear off, with no thanks from senior officers, no acknowledgement of their loyal service. Simply appalling. 


Note to Barnet Tories: this is a community library - library workers, residents, union members and local Labour councillors uniting in the fight to preserve a public service ...

At one library, where several were leaving this week, at closing time on their last day, managers and consultants reportedly arrived unannounced just before closing time and insisted all the  library workers leave at once: instantly, no time to wrap presents, or write cards. Their colleagues were forced to  prepare cards and gifts in the car park - some staff members were not even allowed time to go to the loo, or collect their belongings. 

Why? Because senior managers wanted to test the technology for switching over from staffed to unstaffed hours. No time for sentiment, in the new regime. Workers are redundant, to be replaced by electronic doors, and a cctv camera.

Of course when the unstaffed library hours begin, once the regime is in place, anyone on the library premises will have to pack up and leave, and wait outside, so as to let themselves back into the unstaffed library with their pin numbers. What will happen if people don't want to leave: refuse to leave? No one knows. That man hiding in the loo: will he be spotted? Maybe not. Staff must leave on the dot, before the doors close - but will they be able to clear the library in time?


Visiting Hendon Library for the last time was particularly difficult. 

This lovely thirties building is next door to the Town Hall, and used to be the borough's flagship library, with three floors: the adult section, a children's library, a reference library, and a music library. The reference library alone had a large team of specialist information librarians. 

(For more information about the architecture of Barnet's Libraries, please visit 'Modernism in Metroland').

The children's library still - or at least until last week - has this plaque on the wall, honouring the work of pioneering children's librarian Eileen Colwell, who worked there for forty years, and whose example was followed across not just the country, but internationally. How sickened she would be, to see her life's work destroyed, and access to reading, and the educational and developmental benefits associated with library use by children, ruthlessly ended by this grubby, philistine council.


Apart from wanting to take a last look at the place, I had gone there to finish some research in the local archives. Necessary to do this now, as Archives, and indeed the whole library building, will be closed until September. Closed, and never to be the same again.

While I was sitting in the Archives area in the Reference library, I could not help but hear how staff members were obliged to bear the brunt of residents' fury when they questioned why the library was closing - and for how long.

April, May, June, July, August, September? Asked one man, stabbing the words at the poor library assistant, as if it were her fault ... That's just not feasible!

A female student asked anxiously about the closure: oh, but, she said ... she needed to come here to study ... and what will your opening hours be, when it does re-open? Well, said the assistant, politely, from seven in the morning ... you can let yourself in ... but we won't be here. No one will. The student looked at her in disbelief, as if she thought she had taken leave of her senses.

And of course when Hendon Library does reopen, it will be not be in anyway recognisable as the library it once was.

The two upper floors will be entirely lost: and only a small section of the remaining ground level will retain any library service. Yes, hard to believe, isn't it?

The children's library so lovingly created by Eileen Colwell will be destroyed.


The cafe will be ripped out. 


Of the remaining space downstairs, only half will be a library area: the rest will be used by other services.

This corner of the building is what your Tory councillors insist will still be a library. 

All the libraries, they claim, are being retained - a marvellous demonstration of how they listen to you, their constituents - and voters. They think so little of you, that they think you will believe them, and not the evidence of your own eyes, when the newly emasculated library service begins.

It is not true: they have handed the buildings over to Capita to run as part of the assets portfolio, and for a while a token library function will be allowed to run in a corner of those buildings. In some libraries there will be no trained staff, only unpaid, untrained volunteers - if they turn up. Untrained, and it is unclear if they will all be, like library staff, DBS checked - or any of them, apart from 'supervisors'.

Libraries will also spend much of the time completely unstaffed. No one present at all, neither trained library workers, or volunteers: you will have to let yourself in with a pin number, and hope that you will be safe in an unsupervised space, with no one to help in an emergency. But smile: you're on camera - providing the CCTV is being monitored, and can see you, round the corners or behind the shelves. Oh - the loos won't be available, by the way. Make sure you go before you arrive. If the doors fail, and you can't get out - in an emergency you'll have to use a waste bin, like the library occupiers were told to, by management, once upon a time.

The remaining library spaces in the former library buildings will be gutted, and 'refurbished' - supposedly to be let as offices to local businesses. This, as we shall see, is sheer fantasy.


On Friday I visited East Finchley Library: a much loved library, which, if it had not have been in a ward that is a Labour stronghold, and centre of the most vocal opposition to library cuts, would no doubt have received a more favourable treatment in the new regime. 

As I arrived, my attention was immediately caught by a display on the fence to the left of the entrance, with a range of laminated, illustrated letters of love to the library by local children: children at Martin's, the school next door, who had taken advantage of their back fence to send a message of support: We Need Our Library ... Library campaigner Emily explained that there were about 400, in total, from local schools.


As well as a vital resource for the community, East Finchley is much loved because of its unique architecture: it is a listed building, with protection, thankfully, for the internal fittings, including the oak shelving that curves around the central part of the building, which is coiled, and circular, like the inside of a shell.

In the library, even though it was a weekday afternoon, all the pcs were in use. Mums with small children and babies came in, and elderly residents sat reading the papers. It is a calm, safe space, for those who need it: a resource, a meeting place, and a focus for the community.




I sneaked upstairs to take photographs of the lovely features soon to be out of the reach of library visitors: listed or not, once Capita get their sweaty hands on the upper floor, (as well as the much used computer room), will these features be safe from damage?


One resident has tried to ask the council about the permission sought from Historic England in regard to the 'modification' of this building. Their response was evasive, and worrying. Let us be quite clear, friends at Capita, and Barnet Council, if anything happens, accidentally or otherwise, to the fabric of this listed building, there will be consequences.

Peeping inside the meeting room, Mrs Angry's eye was caught by what appeared to be graffiti on a notice board at the end of the room. Someone had written: LIBRARIES DESTROYED, in large letters, amongst other things (no, not Mrs Angry. Although she may have left a few messages in Hendon Library, if you can find them, councillors ...)

Standing at the top of the stairs, rather to one's surprise, especially in its position by the door to the gents, in the lovely round lobby area, is a statue, in a perspex box. 


A notice explains that it is a copy of the Apollo Belvedere: described by Kenneth Clark as once 'the most admired piece of sculpture in the world'; an icon of the Enlightenment, much admired by Goethe, Schiller and Byron. The Apollo Belvedere was also featured in the official logo of the Apollo XVII moon landing - the days when it seemed mankind was progressing to a better version of itself, rather than where we are now, teetering on the edge of the abyss. 

Now Apollo must stand forever in ignoble isolation, outside the gents, on the forbidden floor of an outsourced library, waiting for the sound of footsteps of the men from Capita, scurrying up the staircase with their laptops and calculators. 

The age of enlightenment, in Broken Barnet, in case you were not aware, appears to have come to an end.

On leaving the library, I had decided to take some more photographs outside, but had to keep stopping, because so many local residents were coming up to the display of the children's letters, reading them, and standing there, helplessly, like the mourners at a roadside shrine.

On Saturday, Mrs Angry happened to be in North Finchley, and decided to take a look at what was going on in regard to the library there. This branch had already been closed for 'modification', and 'refurbishment'.



What a sight it is now.

No longer a library, but an active construction site, covered in dust, surrounded on all sides by fencing, and warning notices. Downstairs in the former children's library, with the beautiful, oak framed bow windows, the blinds were drawn. 


Former children's library, North Finchley 

Round the side of the building, however, it was possible to see through the window frames, which they council had deliberately left unpainted, and rotting, into one of the rooms: gutted, thick with plaster dust, one solitary chair left, looking forlorn amongst the emptiness, pushed up against a table covered with building plans. 

The staff entrance door told its own story: years of neglect, the last few overseen by private contractors Capita, who appear not to have been required to do much maintenance for the enormous fees we pay them. 


Staff entrance, North Finchley Library

As it is on the outside, so it is inside, with staff expected to work in dirty, delapidated environment. 

And of course previous posts have covered the scandalous issue of the water contamination of these ageing and poorly maintained libraries, and the suppressed tests which showed legionella and coliform bacterial traces.

At the front of the former library, now caged off, and covered up from public view, like a dangerous, wounded animal in a zoo, people turned up, one a father with a child on a scooter, looking at the notices in amazement. 

The children's library is being removed from this library, despite the perfect, purpose built areas that are integral to its original design. Why? All part of the 'master plan': allegedly space is being robbed from these buildings, reducing the library function within them to a nominal corner, because we must rent out our libraries to the business sector.

When I asked Val White, a senior Barnet officer, about this scheme, at an 'information session' at North Finchley library last year, she was remarkably relaxed about the possibility that this proposed pimping of the library buildings might never happen. I asked her where was the business plan, that supported the idea there would be demand for such rented space, when there appears to be a surplus of offices remaining unrented throughout the borough? It appeared there was no basis for the plan, in that sense. But it didn't matter, I was told: the library budget did not depend on such income. Oh. Really? 

I was puzzled by this, at the time. Not to mention the fact that in order to save a couple of million quid from the library budget, the council was willing to spend up to £14 million - yes £14 million - on ruining our once magnificent library service. (Read more on the real story of the bogus budget argument here, the impact of the library cuts in a useful summary by Barnet Unison).

And then I heard a rumour that senior management intend to use the office space for their own staff, or Capita staff, which may well be necessary as the new council offices in Grahame Park are so small. Perhaps Capita will award itself a well earned gainshare payment for successfully renting the library space to itself? And what would it matter, after all, that our libraries have been attacked and eviscerated, on a false premise? 


Well: there is every reason to believe the alleged rental space being created in our library buildings will never see large scale use by commercial tenants. 

Hendon Library, you may recall, must lose its upper two floors because it is going to be rented and occupied by Middlesex University. 

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer the good old days, when libraries were occupied by campaigners, protestors, and highly principled, well mannered anarchists, rather than academic institutions with too much money, and not enough sense.

Ah but: is this really going to happen, the letting of Hendon Library?

Because several sources have suggested to Mrs Angry that Middlesex Uni has pulled out of the deal, leaving Hendon about to closed for six months, while it is gutted, and rebuilt for their new tenants, at enormous cost - not to mention huge inconvenience to residents - for no good reason. Well, no - there could be no good reason, but in this case, to no purpose. 

If the deal has fallen through, this development would be a repetition of the shameful story of the Church Farmhouse Museum, just around the corner: our only council run library, in a beautiful, listed building. Exactly six years ago, our conniving Tory councillors shut it, grabbed the donated collection, flogged the contents at auction, and put the Farmhouse up for sale. 

No one wanted it. It has cost us an untold amount of money to keep it going, empty, decaying, a visible metaphor for everything wrong with this rotten borough.

For years we were told Middlesex Uni were desperate to have it: now, as the inimitable Gerrard Roots, former curator explained in the Barnet Eye blog last week, our council has had to beg them to take it on, for free. 

It is whispered that the men from Capita have been seen showing unimpressed punters around Hendon library, desperate to find an alternative taker. Could this be true?

It seems East Finchley library has no customers lined up to take on the listed building. 

And Mrs Angry has heard of no other arrangements with other libraries being finalised.

Ever feel like you've been had?

If so, you may feel you wish to express your views to your Tory councillors, all of whom voted for the library cuts, and 'modifications'. 

In May 2018, you may wish to express your views via the ballot box.

You may recall the story in the Mirror about the night they were so bored by the tedious debate about budgets and library cuts, one of them sat there reading a golf magazine: the rest could hardly stay awake.



Councillor Reuben Thompstone has pushed through the library plans with great enthusiasm. He will be very pleased to hear your opinions on his brilliant scheme. 




He can be contacted by email: cllr.r.thompstone@barnet.gov.uk

Tory leader Richard Cornelius, funnily enough, and this is very funny, has said he only got involved in local politics because he was so outraged by the closure of his local library in Totteridge. 



You know what to do: cllr.r.cornelius@barnet.gov.uk

The rest you can find on the council's website. 

Time to remind your elected representatives that they are accountable to you, for what they do, and that our libraries belong to us, and our children, and not to them, or their contractors. 

They think this battle is won. 

It isn't, and it won't be, as long as people in this borough have any fight left in them.