In the wake of highly controversial cuts by Barnet Council, our local library has just re-opened in its new self-service form after months of closure. The timing is somewhat ironic as this week happens to be Libraries Week.
There do not appear to be any signs of the promised refurbishment, other than the Hyde Room now being available commercially. The exterior is the same, but with an automated door system and the interior has barely changed. However, look closely and you can see the security cameras dotted around and the large scanning machines that have replaced the librarians. That, of course, is the big transformation – the absence of staff.
The main challenge when I visited was simply enabling people to enter the building. You need an upgraded library membership and PIN to gain entry and most people (myself included) didn’t have these. So, although the library wasn’t due to be staffed until 2pm, there were a couple of women helping out in addition to a surly security guard. They were very busy and couldn’t chat, but I asked one of them if she was a volunteer and she explained that she “had been volunteered”. You need some ID showing your name and address like a driving licence in order to get a card and PIN number and make sure you don’t loose it or you’ll be stuck outside.
To use the library during the self-service hours (see below), you need to be over 18. Young people of 16 or 17 need permission from a parent or guardian and 15-year-olds in Year 11 need parental consent and confirmation from their school or college.
The layout of the library remains the same with fiction and children’s books downstairs and the reference section upstairs. I can’t imagine what it will be like without any staff and how that will affect the atmosphere which today felt unchanged, apart from witnessing people’s frustration with the new entry system. Once in, there was a broad range of people reading, studying, leafing through newspapers, using computers and enjoying what is still a great local resource. Someone even gratefully remarked to me, “Isn’t it good having the library open again?” and yes it is. Unstaffed, it could be an entirely different matter though.
I made the most of the comprehensive local history section and took out a few books, soullessly scanning the barcodes myself. However, we must keep using it or we’ll continue to loose it.
(I couldn’t resist including the final picture and caption which comes from one of these books, Barnet: The Twentieth Century by John Heathfield and Percy Reboul. How times have changed.)
Monday: 9am-5pm (no staff ie self-service)
Tuesday: 9am-5pm; 9-12.30 (staffed); 12.30-5pm (no staff)
Wednesday: 9am-8pm; 2-8pm (staffed); 9-2pm (no staff)
Thursday: 9am-5pm (no staff)
Friday: 9am-5pm; 2-5pm (staffed); 9am-2pm (no staff)
Saturday: 9am-5pm (staffed)
Sunday: 10am-5pm; 2-5pm (staffed); 10-2pm (no staff)
020 8359 4040