Letters: Perspectives on the future of public libraries

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Hubs of the community

Your article "Cameron's Big Society relaunch runs into big trouble" (15 February) states that "libraries could house coffee shops and bring in self-scanning technology".

Both of these facilities have existed within Essex libraries for some years. Perhaps that is part of the reason for our active library membership being the highest in the country, at almost 25 per cent of the population.

It is certainly one of the reasons why Essex is now managing the library service for Slough Borough Council, having been selected ahead of several other bidders (including some from private sector companies on both sides of the Atlantic) and why we are in discussion with several other local authorities about providing at least some management services to them.

Libraries should be the hub of their communities and the front door to public services in their area. That is why increasing numbers of our 73 library buildings are also housing representatives of other publicly funded or voluntary organisations, and why not one of them is threatened with closure.

Jeremy R Lucas, Cabinet Member for Heritage, Culture and The Arts, Essex County Council, Chelmsford

US firms poised to take over

It is not surprising that US firms, and indeed the UK private sector, are interested in running libraries and more.

The Department of Communities and Local Government is consulting on the "Right to Challenge" where a community can apply to take over a local facility. However they have very little hope of getting it, since if the council accepts the challenge it has to put the service out to tender. The department says quite honestly that the challenger may not get the facility. Indeed on the showing of the list of other tenders reported in The Independent, unless they sign up with a commercial organisation partner they will be unlucky.

If you want to save your library call the USA today.

Peter Copping, London NW3

A choice of bad voting systems

In May we will have the benefit of an undemocratic referendum on electoral reform. A majority of people may be against either system offered, but they will have no voice. The alternatives are the present system, and AV, which is the present system tarted up to provide an almost artificial majority for a candidate.

Constituencies will be almost random products of dry arithmetic, with equal numbers of electors in each, instead of constituencies related to identifiable local communities.

RW Standing, East Preston, Sussex

If we change to the Alternative Vote system, never again will the voters get the government they vote for. Second preference is simply second choice. Third, fourth, fifth and sixth preferences are just the hedging of bets.

With first-past-the-post we get a result. AV would create permanent coalition, with voters' second, third, and worse thoughts deciding who governs.

Alan Carcas, Liversedge, West Yorkshire

Steve Richards' article (17 February) is full of talk of what the alternative vote referendum will mean to Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition if the vote is "won" or "lost". The whole point of the referendum is what the people decide.

The Lib Dems have been given what they asked for, a vote on changing how MPs are elected. Whichever way the vote goes, they will have asked the question and must abide by the result. They can't shout "foul" if it goes wrong.

Morris Globe, Manchester

The NOtoAV campaign are trying to turn the AV referendum into a referendum on Nick Clegg's popularity. This is obviously a petty and cynical way to treat a constitutional question of huge importance, but there is another reason, less obvious, why it is wrong. Namely, that actually Nick Clegg's Party will not benefit from AV. Under AV, you no longer need to vote tactically, and can give your first preference to whoever you want to win. The Lib Dems may gain votes in areas where they are weak, under AV, as they will no longer be perceived as a "wasted vote" in those areas. But that they will lose first preference votes in areas where they are strong, as people will no longer be compelled to vote for them tactically in order to cast a vote that is not "wasted".

Losing votes where you are strong loses you seats, whereas gaining votes where you are weak does not.

Councillor Dr Rupert Read, Norwich Green Party

It was most gratifying to hear that the referendum Bill in respect of AV has now been approved without amendments, despite the wrecking activities of an entirely unelected body, the House of Lords. I say a plague on your House.

Rowland Leigh, London, NW4

How nursing can turn nasty

As one who ran a charitable nursing service, the daughter of a doctor and a nurse, I applaud Christina Patterson's honesty ("Nasty nurses: tell me something new", 16 February).

Like her, I have recent experience of patienthood in NHS hospitals. I, too, can cite many examples of incompetence and unkindness. I have been told brusquely to "get up" when my hip had dislocated. I have been refused a commode on "health and safety" grounds. My dying husband was told: "There are plenty of people iller than you."

Deteriorating standards may be due, in part, to the prevalence of agency nurses who lack commitment and cannot be managed in the same way as directly employed ones, and to the desire of the nursing profession, in recent years, to be on equal, as opposed to complementary, terms with medical colleagues. Anne O'Neil (Letter, 16 February) writes of poor training and administration. But how do you cure a lack of compassion?

Gillian Petrie Hunter, Esher, Surrey

I recently had a major operation at the William Harvey, Ashford (East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust), and have nothing but praise for the staff. They are professional and caring and are, I believe, permanently employed. The qualified nurses are well-supported by student nurses from Canterbury Christ Church University and domestic staff, any of whom were happy to fill water jugs, make tea and so on. I felt safe at all times. Perhaps, the key is in the employment of permanent, motivated staff working in teams.

Mary Berg, Canterbury

I am a nurse, trained in the 1980s, and Christina Patterson's experience brought tears to my eyes. I am appalled that basic nursing care is not being given willingly and kindly.

We were trained to give basic nursing care in the first few weeks of training. How to bed-bath a patient while maintaining warmth and dignity; how to change a soiled sheet while maintaining warmth and dignity; how to give mouthcare on a post-op or unconscious patient; how to feed a patient unable to feed themselves. I could do all of these things now, years later, with my eyes closed.

We also had more time. We used to have two day shifts, early and a late. The "lates" came on at 1pm and for about two and half hours there would be an overlap of staff. This meant that there was time to talk to patients. I remember as a student nurse on a female medical ward being told by my ward sister to "sit on the patients' beds and talk to them" during this overlap period.

That overlap doesn't generally exist now as the day has been split into two 12-hour shifts. New nurses seem to like this, possibly because it means they work only three or four days a week, which frees them to do extra work in their days off. I feel this takes nurses away from their ward and their patients too much, so that a sense of belonging and pride doesn't exist.

Amanda Hawkes, London SW18

Give Bahrain a fair chance

Bahrain should not be tarred with the same brush as many other Arab states where there have been anti-government protests.

It has moved significantly along the path towards democracy, establishing parliamentary elections and giving women the vote.

The press is largely independent, women emancipated, university education and health services free, and housing heavily subsidised. Likewise, society is well integrated; mosques and churches flourish undisturbed. However, youth unemployment is a problem Bahrain shares with many countries.

Of course the Shia majority want more – in particular the removal of the Khalifa family, which still holds ultimate power after more than 200 years. But for the past 20 years the Bahrain government has moved firmly and sensibly towards a new democratic model. Let us support both the people and the government in a way which allows these current winds of change to strengthen rather than weaken this progress.

Samuel Knight, Caldicot, Gwent

Cormac Loane (letter, 16 February) argues that the Egyptian revolution shows that the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary. Does he seriously think that a popular unarmed demonstration by the Iraqi masses would have led to anything other than a bloodbath? The Egyptian army's refusal to fire on the citizens of Cairo was crucial. Saddam would never have let it happen that way in Baghdad.

Mark Redhead, Oxford

The two-state solution is dead

William Hague set pulses racing with his unprecedented public warning to Israel to tone down its belligerent language in the wake of the Egyptian uprising ("A message designed to be heard", 10 February). Fear not, for he then proceeded to flaunt his Iranophobe credentials by calling for more sanctions against Iran.

What exactly is the great crime of Iran, other than pointing out the emperor has no clothes? The ongoing colonisation of the West Bank with Israeli settlements has put paid to a viable two-state solution. This is now confirmed by a mass of confidential documents relating to the "peace process" leaked to Al-Jazeera. There is also the little matter of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority lacking democratic legitimacy.

The only options left are an apartheid Greater Israel or, as in the case of present day South Africa, a common state with citizenship for all Israelis and Palestinians. A passive West ensures the former outcome.

Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Dr Faysal Mikdadi, as a Palestinian, asserts that there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (letters, 14 February), namely, "Let us share the land." I couldn't agree more.

Ling and working in Arab Jaffa and in Jewish Tel-Aviv, Israel, for 10 years as a chef, I was often encouraged at seeing how, on a daily basis, Arabs and Jews were able to work, laugh, joke and even commiserate together.

This reminded me of my native Northern Ireland, where, even in the height of the Troubles, Catholics and Protestants still had to work together, and people on the street still got on with their daily lives, despite the media polarisation.

There is more chance of a peaceful future for Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land if they live together in co-existence, together in one country, than if the territory is further divided into incontiguous sectarian pockets where extremism would most certainly foment.

Colin Nevin, Bangor, Co Down

There is a simple truth about Jews, Palestine and whether or not a historical, biblical presence then confers an entitlement now (letter, 15 February). It is that the Jews never left. They stayed, sometimes welcome, often air-brushed, but a well-documented, anthropological, social, cultural and commercial entity in the Middle East .

Contrary to a widely preferred view, vast numbers of Holocaust survivors did not just descend on Palestine out of the blue after the Second World War for the first time since the Bible. There was a well-established Jewish infrastructure in place to help them. And the rest is history. But get it right.

Joy Helman, London W8

Where will prisoners vote?

There has been much debate about whether prisoners should be allowed to vote: but I've not read anything about where.

Many prisoners, especially those on long sentences, lose contact with a specific address they might call home, are regularly moved around the country while inside, and face an uncertain destination on release. In which constituency should they cast their vote? Their last stable address before incarceration? That in which they are imprisoned come election time?

Is there something to be said for setting up a number of constituencies specifically for prisoners, wherever they happen to be located? Their views on matters of law and order, drugs policy, and the like would then be readily conveyed to those who want to hear them: and equally readily dismissed by those who do not.

Stephen Potts, Lauder, Berwickshire

At last, simple benefits

We broadly welcome the Government's plans to simplify the benefits system. Over 13 million people in the UK live in poverty. Yet £16.8bn in benefits and millions more that are available in charitable grants go unclaimed every year.

Many of the individuals we speak to and who have used our Turn2us service to access benefits and grants, say that before coming to us they were simply unaware of what they were entitled to, or put off from claiming by the sheer complexity of the system. Indeed even officials are known to pale at the sight of the 14 volumes and over 8,000 pages that comprise the Department for Work and Pensions instruction manuals for claiming benefits.

Rob Tolan, London W6

Plot against our forests foiled

David Cameron is to be commended for stopping the shameful proposed sale of public forests in England. Once again this Prime Minister has shown his common sense and the ability to listen to public concerns and act. The English "silent majority" must also be congratulated in overcoming their timidity and red-tape suffocation by making their opposition to the proposal so clear and strong.

However the question still has to be asked as to who was behind this devious scheme to privatise public assets. They need to be rooted out, exposed and sent packing. Do I hear an apology from the Labour Party for their hand in the previous undisclosed forest sales during their term?

Russell Armitage, Walsall, West Midlands

Posh stars

Twice in a week you have had columnists having a bash at Helena Bonham Carter and Keira Knightley. (Susie Rushton, 15 February; Julie Burchill, 17 February). Posh or not, we should be grateful to them as they act as an antidote to the plethora of non-celebs like Kerry Katona, Katie Price and Coleen Rooney who clog up the media with their witless posturing. As for Keira asking for an agent when she was three, she was reflecting her parents' life. It is a lot better than demanding a burger and chips at the same age

Robert Parker, Taunton, Somerset


The Supreme Court has ruled that paedophiles may appeal against lifetime inclusion on the sex offenders' register. One way of assessing an ex-offender's insight into their paedophilic activities might be their recognition that they are a danger to children. This insight, if genuine, might encourage them to wish voluntarily to remain on the register for life.

David Morgan, London NW3

Look for Larry

If Larry the cat is anything like the champion mousers I've known, the PR problem about rats in Downing Street isn't over yet. Rats may have scurried past the cameras during past television news broadcasts. In future, Larry will probably be caught on-camera, proudly offering them as freshly-caught dinner to the Prime Minister.

Anne Thackray, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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