Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Going Cheap: Book Storage Receptacle, Bristol.

This is Bristol Central Library. Nice, innit? It has a number of things to recommend it. Apart from the excellent, Grade-1 listed Edwardian architecture, mainly that it is full of books. These books are available FOR FREE, TO ANYONE. There are lots of valuable local records which aren't available online. Also, there are free computers, and a perfectly decent cafe.

Now, there are plenty of ways in which they could improve the library. In my opinion it's not big enough for a major city centre library, and there isn't enough space given over to books which adults can borrow. The IT system, which lets you search for books, is abysmal.

I have lots of ideas of how the library might be improved.

None of them, however, involve removing half the books, and installing 30 offspring of the city's chattering class in a specially hothoused environment, paid for by the tax-payer, which enjoys freedom from local authority control, in order to religiously indoctrinate them while they're too young to know better.

In case you are now baffled, I mean the plans in which the Cathedral School, a semi-private institution located out the back of the library, has decided that it will march in and take over half the library in order to run a 'free school'. I would like to give you a link to these plans but they aren't available to the public. Apparently we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about it, or suchlike.

If this seems bizarre, what is even more bizarre is that our (elected by a grand total of 13% of the city) Mayor George Ferguson and his deputy, Councillor Simon Cook, have decided that this is the best idea ever. Councillor Cook is the representative of Clifton East, one of the richest parts of the city. He is also the representative for, er, culture.

"And when we finish the book, boys and girls, we'll be giving away the Library!"
Now, it's not like there was any consultation process to ask the citizens of Bristol what they'd like done with their property. Instead, these two alleged democrats seem to think that they can dispose of the city's assets without even entering into a conversation about it.

If you have some vague, nebulous idea this might be wrong, let me help you. This is clearly wrong, because:

1) The Library is public property.
2) The Library is already too small for a city this size.
3) The Library is purpose-built as a library. Not a school.
4) There has been no consultation with the citizens (or the elected representatives) of Bristol about this idea.
5) No other company or body has been given the opportunity to express an interest in this space.
6) The 'free school' is one of those bonkers ideas of Michael Gove that will probably not last past the next election.
7) The 'free school' will not be accessible to children who live in the area, they will be hand-picked for religious affiliation, academic ability, and general middle-classness in a way that will ensure that the Cathedral School gets to look good in the league table. In a way that a local authority primary school, like the one about 200 yards away, simply can't.
8) The 'free school' will be religiously inclined. So you can forget about sending your children there if you happen to be Asian. Unless you feel a sudden conversion to Christianity coming on.
9) The school will cater to a snug, smug little elite. The books cater to everyone.
10) Not everyone who wants to read books can afford to buy them. Even poor people are, in a developed society, literate. It might be a shock to Simon and George, but these days, even some actual middle class people, with degrees and everything, are poor.
11) Not everyone owns a Kindle. I don't.
12) Books have not been suddenly supplanted by the internet. Non-fiction books contain far more information on a subject than you can find by googling, and, unlike Wikipedia, are written by experts.
12) It makes Bristol look backward and illiterate compared to other cities. See below.

If you think that libraries are basically history, you may not have seen last week's fantastic Culture Show about the new Birmingham City Library. Birmingham City Council have just spent millions on building this space-age new library, which sits next to the theatres and arts galleries. It looked so awesome, I'm now actually planning to go to Birmingham to visit it. Clearly this larger and more forward-looking authority don't think a library is 'just book storage' like ours do.

If you watched the program, you'll have seen poet and library campaigner Michael Rosen expressing the concern that one big expensive library will not deliver as much to communities as 20 smaller libraries. I do totally understand his point, but personally feel that tempting people into a big, fascinating library, with lots of content is more likely to encourage them to use the service in the first place, and maybe re-engage with libraries as a result.

If it was up to me, I'd forcibly confiscate half the Cathedral School, in order to expand the library, but hey-ho.

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Correction: An earlier version of this blog stated that Simon Cook was a former pupil of the Cathedral School. This information was incorrect. Apologies.

7 comments:

  1. I have a Kindle, I still use this library and others in the city regularly. When a library is considered no more than "book storage" by an educated man I fear for the future.

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  2. Well said. The use of the word free is totally inappropriate in such a setting as it quite blatantly has nothing free surrounding it, apart from the fact that they obviously think they are going to get part of the library for free. Libraries are wonderful places, full of books, information and hope. I wonder when dear George actually last entered a library to look at a book himself-seems like the worst type of Kindle user to me.

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  3. While we respect the writer's genuine concern for the library building, it's hard to know where to start in responding to this post since there are so many inaccuracies.

    Just to look at a few points, then:

    "7) The 'free school' will not be accessible to children who live in the area, they will be hand-picked for religious affiliation, academic ability, and general middle-classness in a way that will ensure that the Cathedral School gets to look good in the league table."

    Completely untrue. Our school is open to any children living in BS postcodes in Bristol, North Somerset or South Glos. Places are allocated by random allocation overseen by an independent body. There is no academic selection; there is no faith criterion (i.e. we welcome children of all faiths and none).

    "8) The 'free school' will be religiously inclined. So you can forget about sending your children there if you happen to be Asian. Unless you feel a sudden conversion to Christianity coming on."

    As above, there is no faith admissions criterion, although it is a faith school. The families of those murdered in this week's bomb attack on a Pakistani church or the centuries-old Christian communities in Iran and Iraq (to name but three examples) might be interested in the suggestion that being Asian automatically means you cannot be Christian.

    "the Cathedral School, a semi-private institution located out the back of the library". Bristol Cathedral Choir School is a state-funded 11-18 academy; Cathedral Primary School is a state-funded free school. If it is semi-private, then so, for example, are 71% of Bristol's secondary schools, since that's how many are academies. Not many people's understanding of the situation, we suspect.

    We fully support the library, which is indeed a wonderful place and a great facility for Bristol. Bristol Libraries hopes to use funding released by the plan to make the 80% of its reference catalogue that is currently in card indexes fully accessible online.

    We also salute the efforts of Bristol City Council to explore this creative solution to address its primary school places shortage, while simultaneously facing huge cuts in Government funding.

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    Replies
    1. A few things.

      ONE: You accuse me of inaccuracies.

      TWO: You think Iraq is in Asia.

      I rest my case.

      I can hardly bother to reply to the rest of your points, so heavily do they rely on obfuscation and muddying the waters. However, I feel I probably should, so here goes.

      The Cathedral Primary school (note the word 'cathedral') will be a feeder for Bristol Cathedral Choir School, which traditionally provided choristers to Bristol Cathedral. The Cathedral Choir features extensively in Bristol Cathedral Choir School's website. The headmaster's blog even says 'I do hope that parents will be encouraged to attend evensong services this term.' Hence, pretending that you have no religious affiliation doesn't wash, even slightly.

      If the Cathedral Primary is not a feeder for the Cathedral Choir School, why is is featured prominently on the Cathedral Choir School's website?

      Bristol Cathedral School was until recently a private school. Most Academies are previously local comprehensive schools, and continue, desite a technical change of status, to continue in this role. Becoming an academy, for former private schools, has typically been a way of sustaining revenue at a time when middle class parents might feel an economic squeeze and be unable to continue to pay fees. It is a way of chanelling public funds to, in effect, allow a priveliged group to continue with their priveliges at public expense, and I oppose it entirely.

      As you are probably aware, most Asian families in Bristol are Muslim, Sikh and Hindu. Most Christians who do come from Asia are in fact Catholic - I don't suppose you want them turning up, do you? Christians from the near East and Arab world (like the Iraqi's you were so keen on) tend to be Coptic or Orthodox Christians. So I don't think they'll fancy your C of E place either. But of course you don't really care about that, do you? You're just throwing sand around, to obscure the view of a priveliged private institution trying to usurp public property.

      To whom am I even speaking, anyway? This blog is not anonymous. You, however, do not care to put your name on your ramblings. I note that Bristol Cathedral Choir School failed to reply to a Freedom of Information Request sent in 2011, asking whether it employed a publicity agency. Am I, in fact, dealing with some intern at a publicity agencgy based in London, who has never even set foot in Bristol, let alone the buildings mentioned?

      Of course, you may be a housewife in Clifton. But while you hide beyond anonymity, one can only speculate.

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  4. "We fully support the library, which is indeed a wonderful place and a great facility for Bristol. Bristol Libraries hopes to use funding released by the plan to make the 80% of its reference catalogue that is currently in card indexes fully accessible online. "

    If Catherdral Primary School valued the library, it would understand that the library is more than just the area's visible to the public. It would not dismiss it's regionally important collections as 'book storage', It certainly wouldn't be risking the status of the library by implementing these plans. To be clear - The Library did not offer the space to you. You have sought the space from the library.

    The project to make the items only available on card catalogue now available via the electronic catalogue is a positive step indeed, but it's a sweetner in a plan which takes the library one step forward and two steps back. The library shouldn't have to sell the very soul of the building in order to bring accessibility to collections up to date. Phrasing the loss of the space as a benefit for the library is indeed, nothing but propaganda from Cathedral Primary School.

    The attack on the school and it's ethos reflects the history of the school, and the perceptions that people of Bristol have about a school that has evolved from a private school. Now, as a free school, it has a hard job of convincing people that it truly is inclusive. Perhaps you could make information available about the current intake of the school to back up your claims that this school is making a difference to famillies from all backgrounds.

    How many children at your school are entitled to Free School Meals?

    What postcodes do the children in your school travel from?

    How many children in your school are LAC? (Looked After Children)

    How many children have a Statement of Special Educational Needs?

    Your policies may be inclusive. Let the stats about the children who attend speak for themselves. It may be the once piece of transparency we have in this whole, sorry process.

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  5. "We fully support the library, which is indeed a wonderful place and a great facility for Bristol. Bristol Libraries hopes to use funding released by the plan to make the 80% of its reference catalogue that is currently in card indexes fully accessible online."

    Lets rephrase this.

    "We don't give a flying fuck about the library. We'll just keep bleating on about removing books to another storage location. We only about expanding our school, and keeping our well-heeled governors happy. We've offered 60'000 to Bristol City Council to use the space. The library probably won't see any of this money. It will be used to plug a hole somewhere else in the council budget."

    There. That sounds a little more honest.

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  6. 'Our school is open to any children living in BS postcodes in Bristol, North Somerset or South Glos'
    Number of points here
    1)This proposal is the result of a crisis of primary school places in Bristol so any places taken by children outside of the postcodes covered by the Bristol LA reduce the school's case, the people of Bristol need to be clear about just how many places will serve Bristol children.

    2)Other than under very controlled circumstances (see LA policy for educational transport), parents will need to fund and arrange transport for their child so the claim by this school that it is 'open to any child' is a fantasy. 'Open to all' will in financial and practical terms mean, those who live within walking distance or those who have the funds, means and time to escort primary aged children to and from the city centre twice a day. Furthermore the senior management, governing body, school sponsor, LA officers and elected Councillors will be fully aware of this and need to ensure messages conveyed to the public about who this school will actually be in a position to serve are open, transparent and honest.

    3) It is a stated intention of the Cathedral School is that this Free School will be the feeder for the secondary, so those children from NS or SG will have priority over Bristol children at the very same time that the current 'primary bulge' moves into the secondary provision within our city.

    'The families of those murdered in this week's bomb attack on a Pakistani church or the centuries-old Christian communities in Iran and Iraq (to name but three examples) might be interested in the suggestion that being Asian automatically means you cannot be Christian.'

    This statement uses highly offensive, inappropriate, emotive language. The school itself has raised the question of ethnic minority and second language students within its cohort. A quick search on the Ofsted website through up the following fact in the opening contextual statement about the cohort of the Cathedral Secondary provision in 2010:-

    ‘‘The proportions of students from minority ethnic groups or who speak English as an additional language are below average and much lower than the proportions in the local area’

    The management of this school now need to update the people of our city as to what steps have been taken since 2010 to ensure it is reaching and educating BME and second language communities in Bristol, the impact of these steps and what additional strategies it will employ to ensure the primary provision is reflective of the diversity of the Bristol population.

    Given that all of the above is freely available on the internet to the public, council officers in the education department and Councillors considering this proposal will be fully aware of the points raised. In addition both will have access to other information such as the numbers of children entitled to free school meals and how this relates to % within the local school population in Bristol and the postcodes of those served within the current Cathedral cohort. Now is the time for the school and the council to be open about the details of this proposal so the public can be confident that tax payer’s money is being used effectively and working towards achieving the expressed aims of the council’s Children and Young People’s Plan – namely to reduce inequalities between the differing communities in Bristol and ensure all children are supported to achieve their potential.

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