23 May 2016

The Birmingham Book Burnings

Birmingham is rightly proud of its new library. Opinion on its design is divided but I like it. The library opened on 3rd September 2013 and people come from far and wide to see it and use it. It has become an award winning visitor attraction in a city that is full of wonders,  and is, these days, proud of itself and so it should be. 

Not only is the library there for lending purposes but it also houses an amazing reference library and the city archives, both jewels for those who study and research academically and for those like me, who research their own interests there and also for family historians.

Not long after the library opened cutbacks were announced, opening hours were reduced from 73 to 40 hours per week and the staff of 188 was cut more or less in half. The cuts are hardly the fault of Birmingham City Council who have a massively reducing budget to juggle and were mildly embarrassed to say the least that their brand new beautiful library was to suffer so publicly but can be laid firmly at the door of the austerity politics of our government.

It seems though that the library has now been left in a perilous position and due to the cuts in staff numbers the City of Birmingham is in danger of valuable reference books being disposed of, in the dark with nobody watching to witness the secret bonfire of profanity.

I am a member of a wonderful Facebook Group called Birmingham History Group. If you want to know anything about Birmingham, it's history, and it's people, it is a one stop shop, especially for the amazing photographs. My attention was drawn to a post by Jan Ross made today. It said:

"As some of you will have read I have been searching for a set of books, in the new reference library that I used to access in the old Birmingham Library. They were not in the catalogue. After writing and emailing and actually visiting the library, I was informed that they had been "dumped" in a skip in accordance with Birmingham Council Criteria. 
I pursued this, and eventually the books were found. 
The facts apparently are that a large number of historical books could not be placed in the library due to the vastly reduced amount of shelf space. 
Those historical books are not catalogued and are in the basement of the library. The library has no librarians available to catalogue them and the hope is that they will be forgotten and then thrown out. 
This will be an enormous loss to the people of Birmingham and beyond.
I ask that each and every person write or email Birmingham Library and c.c. Birmingham Council to save these books. 
Don't let them go in a skip!"

There has been quite a discussion about this and Jan has since added:

"The problem is achieving communication of the problem. It needs to be highlighted. All media likes to show off the new building but what is the point of having a fantastic new building if massive amounts of historic books are lost"
"The Man in Charge did not want to acknowledge the books were even there. He told me they had been put in a skip and gone. 
This applies to many historical books. We can't ask for the books to be fetched as we don't know which books are there, we don't know how many there are. They are not in catalogue. It's appalling and the people of Birmingham need and should do something about it.
I have written a letter of complaint and I'm asking every other person to do the same.
Thank you"

All of the above is reproduced with Jan's very kind permission and also that of the Group Administrators. 

So OK, I exaggerated, Birmingham Library is not burning its books just yet but disposing of them,  without giving people the opportunity to volunteer to catalogue them or perhaps offer them to other libraries for safe keeping, is akin in my opinion, to book burning.

If you live in Birmingham I urge you to contact your local councillor and ask them to look into this. Everyone who has a connection with Birmingham whether you live there now or not, should email Birmingham Library and ask that this problem be dealt with by not disposing of the uncatalogued books that are currently stored in the basement. They and their value is not forgotten.

The library email address is  enquiries@libraryofbirmingham.com

Local councillors can be found here http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/members

From the group discussion it seems that there is an army of volunteers out there who would be more than happy to help with this problem.