A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 22 February 1997
"Reading the Future" promises that book loans and reference material will stay free (ie, funded by taxes) while libraries will need to make their sites into user-friendly gateways for the latest information technology. Remember, though, that these pious hopes were contradicted by this month's refusal to grant Lottery money to a pounds 50-million plan for every public library to give free access to the Internet.
Public libraries remain a resounding British success story. Some 58 per cent of people use them; they receive 13 visits for every one paid to a professional football match. Yet, for years, their national strength was masked by the fact that many media folk live in the inner-London boroughs where vengeful Tory ministers and posturing Labour councillors played a hideous game of beggar-my-neighbour with vital services. Elsewhere, municipal flagships spread the word as well as ever, even though librarians' status within councils has fallen.
So it's worrying to learn (from a survey by the Society of Chief Librarians) that 95 councils expect to cut library budgets in the next financial year, a few by as much as 20 per cent. A service forever struggling to stand still can hardly renovate itself to greet the wired society. Predictably, the government report drones on in dated High-Thatcher style about "creating trusts" and "involving the private sector". Points of principle aside, no demand exists from firms to manage libraries for profit. Yet this moribund regime recycles its rhetoric as if it were still flogging shares to old Sid. Bourbon-like, it has learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Crash victims in car flattened by shipping container emerge with just minor injuries
- 2 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 3 Satellite full of sexually experimental geckos adrift in space, Russia loses control of mission
- 4 Exclusive: Cameron’s Big Society in tatters as charity watchdog launches investigation into claims of Government funding misuse
- 5 Joey Barton and Yossi Benayoun become involved in Twitter row over Israel-Gaza conflict
Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor 'wheel on people who have mental health problems' says comedian Jo Brand
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Orange Is The New Black season 3: Pornstache isn't coming back
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains