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.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 North Korean prison officers 'cooked prisoner's baby and fed it to their dogs', more horrific accounts from UN report reveal
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 4 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 5 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Secret Cinema showed The Great Dictator at protest secret screening, following Sony's The Interview cancellation
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Angelina Jolie 'didn't eat much' in sympathy with actors who had to lose weight for Unbroken
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever