Outrage over Town Hall plans to dump 30,000 unwanted' library books
PUBLISHED: 22:33 23 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:43 05 October 2010
TOWN Hall bosses are set to bin its almost entire collection of 30,000 specialist foreign language books because they claim they've run out of shelf space. Culture' chiefs at Tower Hamlets council, in London's deprived East End, say the French, German and Portuguese collections stored at Bethnal Green Library are no longer wanted—it is now time to get rid of them
By Ted Jeory
TOWN Hall bosses are set to bin its almost entire collection of 30,000 specialist foreign language books because they claim they’ve run out of shelf space.
Culture’ chiefs at Tower Hamlets council, in London’s deprived East End, say the French, German and Portuguese collections stored at Bethnal Green Library are no longer wanted—it is now time to get rid of them.
Hardly any books have ever been borrowed, they maintain, yet they take up 1,000 shelves and are now an unwanted inheritance from a former pan-London library regime.
Some 2,750 specialist books on Americana literature are also earmarked for the dump.
Unless buyers or anyone else willing to take them can be found, all are likely to be incinerated as “a last resort.”
Ex-Tower Hamlets Liberal councillor Terry Cowley, who uses the collection, branded the decision “appalling.”
“Their solution to everything seems to be pulp it’,” he said.
But the issue is not unique to Tower Hamlets—it is possible hundreds of thousands of library books across London could also be at risk.
The East End’s collection, the bulk of it untranslated academic literary criticisms, languished in the basement of the former Limehouse Library until two years ago when it was transferred to a storage room in Bethnal Green.
The collection was painstakingly built up by traditional council librarians over several decades as part of the now-defunct Metropolitan Special Reserve’ system, which began 50 years ago.
The 28 former Metropolitan boroughs were given specific responsibilities to buy and maintain specialist areas of stock to meet reader reservations across London.
In the same way that Swiss Cottage library was the specialist for philosophy and psychology, Limehouse developed a collection of 16,500 French, 10,500 German and 1,200 Portuguese works.
Some biographies have been placed on Bethnal Green’s public shelves, but most books—including works by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir—are more than 30 years old and have rarely seen the light of day.
Tower Hamlets council, which took over Limehouse Library in 1965 from the former Stepney Metropolitan borough, says reader demand is almost non-existent—and is more likely to be met nowadays via Amazon or the more accessible British Library.
With the Association of London Chief Librarians unlikely to reinstate the former Metropolitan system, Tower Hamlets points out that its current dilemma—what to do with books no-one seems to want—is one faced by other London boroughs.
Tower Hamlets library bosses, who three years ago were exposed by the East London Advertiser for incinerating thousands of novels deemed unfit and too tatty for the new Whitechapel Idea Store, have been trying to find takers this time round—but so far without much success.
Only the private subscription London Library had “taken some volumes”, according to the council’s Idea Store development adviser’ Kate Pitman.
“Faced with the choice of giving up precious shelf space to books for which there is no local demand, we have come to the decision to offer the volumes to other libraries and to booksellers,” she said.
“Academic libraries have been contacted—but are not interested. Either the stock is out of date or they already have a copy and do not want a duplicate.
“Public libraries have not been interested because of the specialist nature of the books and because of their age.
“Several booksellers have come to visit, but the view of booksellers is that the remaining books have very little commercial value.”
She added: “We’d like to make clear that disposing of any of these books is an absolute last resort, we're making every effort to find the books a good home.”
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