Camden’s new libraries chief Mike Clarke has a vision of what a Camden library should look and sound like, and believes that unless the “silence please” notices are torn down and mobile phones welcomed in, future generations will desert them.
“People expect to be able to carry on their normal conversations and life, and we don’t want to stop them from doing that in libraries,” he told the New Journal in an exclusive interview this week. Mr Clarke outlined his priority as getting rid of “that whole silence in the library ethos and the idea you weren’t supposed to do anything except come in and be very, very quiet”.
Younger users are to be welcomed in and made to feel relaxed, libraries will be open for a further 45 hours each week, and book borrowers – a shrinking group – will check-out their tomes from self-service machines similar to supermarket tills.
Mr Clarke said: “Whenever people say libraries don’t have enough books or the right type of books, I ask them what they think is missing and I’ve never had a clear answer to that.
“Books are very important, but so are other formats.”
And Mr Clarke, who joined Camden four months ago from his prestigious role as director of the London Libraries Development Agency, warned that, without changes, libraries would become out of date and increasingly fewer people would use them. He said some groups, particularly migrants and teenagers, already find them forbidding places.
Also on Mr Clarke’s list of aims are “getting rid of the shouty notices telling people not to do things and putting up notices telling people what you can do”.
He will need courage to push his vision to completion, not least because his opponents have a very different view.
Thanks to Lorcan Dempsey for the Link.