Terence Blacker: You can't kill off libraries and call it 'creative'

Prisoners have a statutory right to a library, but schoolchildren do not

Related Topics

In his song "Gave It a Name", Bruce Springsteen circles around the question of guilt. A man who has done bad things "couldn't stand the guilt or the blame/So he gave it a name."

It is a weird, offbeat psychological insight, but one which modern politicians would understand better than most. This week, and in these pages, Andy Burnham, currently moving onwards and upwards from his job as Culture Secretary (last year it was his "dream job"), has been busy playing the name game.

Boasting of the government's commitment to what he called "Creative Britain", Burnham revealed how schoolchildren and students were now being helped and encouraged to become part of it. There were Creative Apprenticeship Schemes, overseen by a body called Creative and Cultural Skills. Another scheme called Find Your Talent had been introduced to schools. "Ideas are the raw material of the creative industries," Burnham boldly pointed out. Find Your Talent would "give pupils access to quality culture – not just as passive consumers, but as practitioners."

Creative, talent, ideas, culture, quality: you could warm your hands on the crackle of these lovely words. Unfortunately, Burnham's rosy vision of Britain's children, their little heads teeming with ideas and quality culture as they prepare for careers in Creative Britain, has been dealt a rather serious blow by a more sobering document – one which points out that, under his watch, school libraries have continued to be closed and reduced at a shameful rate.

It is blindingly obvious that the best way to allow children and young people to be drawn into new worlds of knowledge and imagination is though books. Yet, when it comes to libraries, all the reassuring words about access to culture are conveniently forgotten. A new e-petition from the Campaign for the Book (which can be found on the 10 Downing Street petitions page) has pointed out that prisoners have a statutory right to a library, but schoolchildren do not. There have been closures and general downgrading of libraries in Oxfordshire, Kent, Lancashire and Nottingham.

Once the catch-all excuse for this betrayal of the next generation was budgetary; now it is the new technology. Primary and secondary schools have been encouraged by the government to introduce a "Virtual Learning Environment" to support teachers. In the squeeze for space and resources, it is often school libraries which have deemed to be surplus to requirements.

There is, admittedly, an image problem here. For a hip, trend-conscious head-teacher, how much more exciting it must be to launch – or perhaps even to roll out, going forward – a Virtual Learning Environment than it would be to announce that books and a qualified librarian will continue to be available. Yet the evidence is clear. Access to books is essential to every government academic target, the foundation of any worthwhile education.

Of course, libraries for children do not conform easily to government by soundbite. In the early days of his 15-month tenure as Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham suggested that libraries should "look beyond the bookshelf" and aim to become places of "joy and chatter". The idea that what he calls quality culture can be found through the politically dull expedient of reading words has always seemed slightly too straightforward and old-fashioned to be taken seriously.

When his former colleague Barbara Follett reports next month on the future of libraries, let us hope that she proposes at least giant step towards the establishment of Creative Britain – giving schoolchildren the same rights to a library as prisoners.

What's in it for Kelby to re-tell this story?

Has any clumsy, unachieved sexual overture ever enjoyed such a sustained Indian summer of publicity than the taxi-rank incident involving the two writers Derek Walcott and Nicole Kelby?

It all happened, or failed to happen, 16 years ago in Boston in America. Kelby, who was married and with a successful TV career, attended a creative course taught by the eminent poet Walcott. One night, while waiting for a taxi after dinner, Walcott suggested that Kelby might like to come back to his place. She declined. He allegedly threatened to block the production of a play she had written.

The play never made it. Kelby abandoned the course. Her marriage broke up and ran up debts. At one stage, she sued the university and Walcott for sexual harassment, but nothing much came of it.

Here is the mystery. Kelby is now a successful writer who works under the name NM Kelby. She is remarried and seems at ease with the world. Yet during the recent excitement surrounding the appointment of a new Oxford professor of poetry, she eagerly told and re-told the great taxi-rank incident, most recently in a Sunday newspaper.

It seems odd behaviour, still casting herself as victim all these years later. Of course, the publicity might just shift a few copies of NM Kelby's books.

Talk of Sugar's ennoblement makes me queasy

Was it my imagination or did Adrian Chiles, introducing "Sir Alan – soon to be Lord Sugar", almost drop to one knee as if he were a humble subject?

The subsequent discussion – on The Apprentice, You're Hired – of Sugar's forthcoming ennoblement was queasy-making on several levels, not least because the life peerage has not actually been conferred and must therefore have been leaked for political purposes.

Meanwhile, no fewer than seven peers have been brought in to prop up Gordon Brown's tottering cabinet. No one could accuse the Government of not doing its bid to hasten reform of the ludicrous honours system.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?