Reading Between The Lines
It’s difficult for the council to deal in detail with all Christopher Hawtree’s frequent criticisms for the simple reason he appears to have more time to complain than the council will ever have to respond.
But we won’t apologise for having to spend most of our days on people considerably more needy than Mr Hawtree.
If I can make one general response it’s that readers should treat his claims with scepticism. His love of literary fiction seems to mean his observations are often rather weak on fact.
He says there has been much national publicity about lack of stock – in Jubilee Library in particular. Well, readers might like to know Mr Hawtree is a journalist who often works for national newspapers. People with friends in such high places are more likely to get their views covered in the national press. It doesn’t mean the targets of their campaigns are actually doing anything wrong.
He cites Rachel Cooke in the Observer giving much space to the Jubilee Library in an article about libraries being run down. He doesn’t say that the paper published our correction in its letters page rebutting Mr Hawtree’s groundless claim in the article that the Jubilee Library had ‘no Dickens’. In fact, it has lots.
More space was taken up in the article with a claim that sci-fi and crime books had “disappeared”. In fact even a fairly lame cop could detect them in the “fiction” section. And yet more space was wasted on a claim the Library had no biographies section – giving the impression we had no biographies. In fact we’ve always had a good collection.
Where do these national papers get their information? Three guesses.
Mr Hawtree is currently being taken to task on the internet for claiming Oxford’s library has “no Arnold Bennett at all”, when it does. A blogger on the Good Library Blog describes this as a “cheap slur” and criticises Mr Hawtree for basing his comments on “second hand tittle-tattle and a lack of research”. Not good for a journalist. Mr Hawtree apologises on the same site.
And the idea that a library’s books should be “no older than 6-7 years” is certainly not ours and not practice within Brighton & Hove – despite the impression given. So there’s a pattern here.
The constant claim that we don’t have enough books cannot be justified. According to the latest CIPFA statistics, we have 1871 books per 1000 population, compared with an average of 1601 for our nearest statistical neighbours - i.e. similar authorities. We are the third highest of this group. We have lots of books because we have a great many more libraries than most places – 16 in all.
Not all our books are in the Jubilee Library, nor should they be. We aim to give people out in the neighbourhoods access to books too. However the Jubilee library has been a huge success and it is now the fifth busiest in the country, with visits and library use increasing.
No councils have limitless supplies of money. We have to balance spending money on libraries with providing services for disabled or elderly people or children. Not everyone will agree with our spending decisions but they are taken openly and in good faith.
As a well-read person, Mr Hawtree should realise life’s a lot more complicated than just demanding “more” like a latter-day Oliver Twist – especially when we already have more than most. ￼