Library Lust


Occasionally I lie awake wondering what politicians think about when they get into government or the upper echelons of the Church or the Civil Service. In theory they have the power to do what they like. For instance, the Church of England, which is a very political organisation with a mystical power structure, has an uncompromising attitude to the marketing of their enormous metropolitan estate. They have little compunction in turfing out tenants whose rents they believe to be too low, whatever their value to the community. When I started as a copywriter in an ad agency in Paddington, most of the estate around Eastbourne Terrace and Praed Street was owned by the church commissioners and largely occupied by pimps and whores. Rather like the Inland Revenue, the Church was living on the proceeds of vice. Nevertheless, everyone was happy. Money, of course, is what really really matters and fuck the sensitivities of the congregation, however devout it may be. Returns in Bayswater were kept inflated on the one hand by the loins of the lonely and on the other by exploited women forced to get off the streets as a result of the Sexual Offences Act. The stipends of the impoverished clergy in the shires were kept just above starvation level and Barbara from Bayswater could reassure herself with the knowledge that her future depended on the Clergy and a balance sheet drafted on the back of an envelope by some vicious ponce in Valetta.

Which brings me to librarians. Somehow those who govern us have worked out a way to save a few quid by emasculating libraries. Many of us remember these local sanctuaries as a place to go to read and learn. In the rural shires, they are vital. Mine, for instance, is a haven for kids who go there to be taught how to spell or construct a sentence by the women who work in the library. Old ladies go there to borrow their Mills and Boones which are distributed by rota. You can find everything you want. They will carry out research for you and go out of their way to source rare books. They will find out-of-print editions of which perhaps there is one copy left in the London Library and they will order it and reserve it for you for a fee of £1.00. Every daily paper and weekly magazine is available to read. The staff are friendly, well trained and intelligent. They’re tolerant too. There’s a woman at my library who, when I reserved an illustrated edition of 120 days of Sodom, told me there were no traces of this in Norfolk but there were several copies available in Wales. When it arrived she called to tell me. And when I picked it up it was wrapped in a brown envelope with the word ‘Steady’ written on it in beautiful script.

Now we are under the hammer of the depression, the future of these magic places has become the responsibility of the local authorities whose budgets are in turn, being emasculated. Librarians will be reduced in number by 25 per cent in the next 12 months. We lost a thousand librarians between March and November this year. Now there are less than 25,000. School libraries have been shredded, which is one of the reasons children leave school unable to spell and in many cases, read. Some can’t even speak. Politicians believe that, if you raise taxes, the private sector will find a way of trimming costs and everything will be fine. It doesn’t work. What they should be saying is, “who’s going to suffer?” Well, it’s the kids as usual. But that’s OK, they’ve got the telly and they can go on line or something.

Prostitution is the perfect economic discipline. The market is you. The supplier is Bayswater Barbara, the overhead is rent for a flat, possibly owned by the Church of England, and a few boxes of wet wipes. The returns are divided between the pimp, the ponce (collector), the punter gets the goods and the victim is Barbara.

It’s rather like publishing.

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