LIBRARY: Nothing short of a scandal

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Viewers of Dr Who will be familiar with the mysterious properties of the space and time defying Tardis, in which the confines of a 1950s police box are transformed into a roomy vehicle for a travelling timelord to make a comfortable hi-tec home.

In contrast, Northumberland County Council seems hell-bent on imposing its own diametrical opposite of the Tardis on the county, as previously adequately resourced and roomy, expertly staffed and well-provided libraries are relocated to cramped, badly resourced and wholly inadequate facilities in buildings in Morpeth, Ponteland and Cramlington.

The ‘broom cupboard’ provided at Concordia Leisure Centre in Cramlington has already made the local press. Readers of the Herald yet to visit the Manchester Street library may be unaware of what has been lost in Morpeth.

Gone is over 75 per cent of floor space with plenty of room to work in peace – a facility we used to take for granted, valued by many and used by a significant number of high school students in the run up to exams.

Gone is an adjacent car park in which visitors could nearly always find a spot. The car park behind the current library is an all-day car park and spaces are like gold dust.

Gone are the music and film libraries. Gone are virtually all reference books – after all, in the digital age everything can be found online, and the information there is always reliable, isn’t it? But then gone too are a number of computers, with not enough space to house them.

Gone is a children’s space worthy of the name, and the teenage fiction corner, where a love of reading could be nurtured. Gone are the local maps. The national newspapers, of course, went years ago.

Gone are over half the staff, although thankfully not the expertise, dedication and helpfulness of those left.

Gone too is the Northern Poetry Library, a jewel in the crown of Morpeth that housed an invaluable selection of first editions and a huge collection of national importance. This is to be relocated in the Tourist Information Office at the Chantry, with over half of the stock going into store in Bedlington, where it will probably never see the light of day, while the Poetry Library will be staffed by non-librarians.

That all this should have happened on the watch of a Labour controlled council is nothing short of a scandal. One would have thought that those calling themselves ‘socialists’ would have understood the importance of providing for the poor and needy, the elderly and disadvantaged, and have understood the invaluable part that libraries play in offering facilities for education, enlightenment and self-improvement. This is part of the heritage of the Labour movement.

This appears to be wholly lost on a council hell-bent on spending tens of millions on new facilities for itself at Ashington, while also purchasing Manor Walks Shopping Centre at Cramlington at a similar cost. It’s clear enough what the council’s priorities are.

That all this is happening in the county town of Morpeth, with a local population set to rise exponentially as new-build housing goes up, simply adds insult to injury.

The summer edition of Northumberland News tells us we have a ‘Town Champion’ in the form of Nigel Walsh, culture, heritage and libraries service manager at Active Northumberland, who makes the quite extraordinary claim: “We have recently moved the library and customer services into much-needed improved facilities.”

One is tempted to note that with champions like this, who needs enemies?

Peter Scaife

Morpeth