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