Book lack in anger

You can’t run an economy like a household budget, and you can’t run a library just by having a big stack of books that people can borrow, nothing is that simple. But it doesn’t take a genius — luckily for Birmingham given that opportunities to read books and learn are dropping like leaves from a battered old public library book — to work out the connection between the idiotic economic policies of Tory led government both nationally and locally and the fact that Birmingham now has a landmark library that can’t afford to buy even the latest Jilly Cooper to lend out.

Birmingham Council in language that invites derision insists that the lack of money that’s led local libraries to beg for donations of books, is merely a “pause in the book fund”. With £105 million of cuts passed through council this March it’s the first a noticeable sign of things to come: what is most galling is how much more interested people seem to be in this cut than Adult Social Care cuts that have the potential to kill people. And that the only response is a desire to give books, a response that struggles to make the connection between financial mismanagement and unneeded austerity and the book lack anger.

The Labour administration of the city council is under huge financial pressure, from central government cuts, from the historic equal pay problems that are it’s own fault and the hangover of a number of huge infrastructure projects and outsourcing deals that were acts of almost wilful stupidity from the previous Conservative/Liberal ruling group.

It’s not really fair to suggest that Sir Albert Bore and co could have done anything to reverse the stupid decision to build an unneeded library — they had a lovely one — nor to make it much cheaper. But they really don’t help themselves: the decision to spend a rumoured £1M on publicity for the opening could have been reversed, it’s possible that they could have found a library website cheaper than the £1.2M they paid partners Capita, and it’s feasible that they could have been brave, bitten the bullet and told people they just didn’t have the money.

Oh, and they could have found £50 to spend at Wickes for ladders so people could have reached the books they do have.

The standard of political debate in the media in the city is poor: the council will be criticised for this in the press, they will play a standard forward defensive and the ball will trickle away. No questions will be asked, because that would be difficult and would challenge the narrative of Birmingham being booming. No questioning about the new New Street station’s lack of any extra capacity, no questions about the selling off of sports pitches, no question of anything that doesn’t make you say “wow, Brum.”. You don’t question you let the stupidest arguments stand.

Authors around the Twitter are already lining up to send books to the underprivileged people of Birmingham — a huge care package could come courtesy of writers from Manchester and London. Maybe we should tell them that a city of one million people is also unable to sustain any independent bookshops or a decent local press and we’ll get some help there too.

Locals will dig deep too — we’re hearing that the now closed Readers World is collecting together the contents of it’s little grot shed to restock the Shakespeare rooms.

If you do want to donate books the local libraries would probably be the better place for them, for you can be sure that there is room on the shelves and that people will be going in to read rather than look at the view. They do accept them, as kind buyers of 101 Things Birmingham Gave the World have already donated.

Author: Jon Bounds

Jon was voted the ‘14th Most Influential Person in the West Midlands’ in 2008. Subsequently he has not been placed. He’s been a football referee, venetian blind maker, cellar man, and a losing Labour council candidate: “No, no chance. A complete no-hoper” said a spoilt ballot. Jon wrote and directed the first ever piece of drama performed on Twitter when he persuaded a cast including MPs and journalists to give over their timelines to perform Twitpanto. But all that is behind him.