Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Public Libraries - The Best Free Show I Know

The Shiny (but deserted) new book stacks in reopened Ealing Central Library

The Central Library in Ealing reopened this morning. It has been closed for almost 2 years for a refit which was plagued by problems. The changes are modest for the length of time the library was shut.

Across the same shopping mall cut price clothing retailer Primark complet
ely reconfigured the old Bentalls department store in a fraction of the time it took Ealing Council to refit the library. A graphic illustration of the difference in efficiency between commercial and public works.

When the library revamp was proposed there was local controversy over plans to reduce the height of the book stacks - and horror at a proposed library cafe. Ealing doesn't lack cafes but it does lack books. The Council persisted so now the book stacks are shorter and a modest cafe has been added. Who knows where the extra shelves worth of books went?

I was one of the first borrowers through the door at 9am this morning. The local press turned out and library staff greeted visitors with balloons. We were promised 20,000 new books on the shelves. The sparse turn-out wasn't disappointed.

When the new branch of Primark opened across the Mall the police were called to control the crowds. Police weren't required for the library opening.
There was no crowd.

The reopened Ealing Central Library -
Empty rows of new computers offer free Internet access

The Primark opening across the Mall -
Crowds queue to pay

I was pleased to see the library shelves are lined with (long overdue, excuse the wordplay) new books and I borrowed 7 of them (borrowers are allowed 13 items). As the books were scanned out on my card I overheard an older man complain 'Who on earth at the Council buys these books?' It is true that the emphasis in fiction is firmly on 'popular' rather than 'literature'.

I'm glad the library is back in action. Its the best free show I know.
Thousands of free books will transport your mind anywhere you desire.

I'm sure word will soon spread that the library doors are open again but sadly I don't think Primark need worry too much about the new competition.

The Council are trying hard to promote their free show - they even provided a free recyclable cotton shopping bag for me to carry away my new books. Welcome back Ealing Library.

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