Boyd Tonkin: A fresh wind from the Humber

The week in books

To much of the metropolitan literati, the city of Kingston upon Hull brings just one name and voice to mind: that of Philip Larkin, librarian of its university for 30 years. Expect to read some slightly patronising Humberside clichés later this month when (on 20 April) the "Larkin Trail" is inaugurated at the Royal Hotel. (Ah yes, "Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel": "Hours pass,/ And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds,/ Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room...") This waymarked trail through city and outskirts will lead pilgrims - two-wheeled and bicycle-clipped, one trusts - past 25 sites associated with the poet's life and work. Let's hope that, in the words of "Here" from The Whitsun Weddings, it takes visitors all the way from the "fishy-smelling/ Pastoral" of the centre (well, that was nearly half a century ago) to the shore where "Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach/ Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:/ Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach".

Yet there is something else to talk about on the theme of Hull and books. At a time when more than 80 per cent of local authorities plan cuts to library services, the city council seem determined to protect theirs. Remote it may look when viewed from London, but Hull has not miraculously dodged the Whitehall spending axe. Cuts there will hurt as much as anywhere but, thanks to some innovative thinking of the kind that all town halls will need, at present the libraries look secure. After a new school development, which may incorporate an extra branch, the city might acquire one more.

This is no Humberside utopia. The policy depends on squeezing extra use out of the municipal estate. Carl Minns, Lib Dem leader of the city council, tells me that "We took a long hard look at the council's buildings. This process began before the details of the cuts were announced. How can we deliver services differently?" They decided that libraries, while protecting and extending book stocks and hours, should function as general access points for a range of other services. "Libraries were the original customer service centres. If you wanted any information, you went to the local library. We're effectively updating that concept."

This may sound heresy to purists who resist any dilution of the book curating and supply function. Arguably, such a strategy could threaten the professional autonomy of staff. But what if the multi-tasking library becomes the best or only way to keep a branch open? "By merging these costs, it will help the council to protect the core library service," Carl Minns says. Besides, multiple use can become a two-way street. Hull also outsources small reference collections from its libraries onto other public sites. So the allotments, say, will hold a stock of gardening books. That makes quite brilliant sense. Why should we not see sports books held – and even lent – at sports centres, or find mini-libraries in park pavilions?

Hull has already given new life to old libraries. The Edwardian-era Carnegie Library closed in 2003 (a reminder that councils let branches expire long before the current austerities). It has now opened its doors again as a "heritage centre" for local studies. The city already boasts its new History Centre, which – among much else – houses a Larkin-linked hoard of material.

Begin to broach the subject of deep change to the pattern or process of the service, and library campaigners will often sound uneasy. They see it as compromise with the cuts. This is misguided. Local libraries did not inhabit a fully-funded paradise before 2010. Dozens of councils have shut them with reckless abandon, year after year, often to score cheap political points against central government. No one actually dies, after all.

Reform was long overdue in many places, and would still be with every cut rescinded tomorrow. Library-lovers could even take a leaf out of the Larkin book. As head of the Brynmor Jones Library, he proved a far-sighted and original manager - even, apparently, in the European vanguard of computerised stock control. True, it makes for a piquant picture: the melancholy lyricist of loss and transience, future-proofing his cherished workplace. What will survive of us is... a fully-searchable online database?

Another prize race for the Hare

Mixing fiction and non-fiction, the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize always delivers a shortlist of mind-expanding eclecticism. This year's choice looks richer (and tougher) than ever. The final cut for the award, due on 8 June, agrees on two novels with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long-list: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (right). Howard Jacobson's Man Booker-winning The Finkler Question will also be in contention, as will (from the non-fiction shelves) everybody's favourite memoir of the season: Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes. It's still, incredibly, a paperback chart-topper that shows no sign of slowing down.

More power to a mightier PEN

Funding for literature bodies from Arts Council England did well in last week's settlement, with an overall rise of almost 10 per cent (at around £7m. per year, it still counts as small change in opera or theatre terms). There were some perverse decisions, with no cut unkinder than the total withdrawal of a grant from the Poetry Book Society. Led by Carol Ann Duffy, a mass poets' revolt is now under way. We may not have heard the last lines yet. Meanwhile English PEN emerged a handsome winner, with support almost trebled to £230,000. Its annual Free the Word! festival (in conjunction with International PEN) continues in London until Sunday. Highlights to come include a panel on "Authorising History" that brings together a trio of outstanding novelists: Hisham Matar, Elif Shafak and Juan Gabriel Vásquez (another long-listed contender for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, with The Secret History of Costaguana). Consult the full programme and book at www.freethewordonline.com

b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map