May 31, 2012

UK library, opened by Mark Twain, stripped bare by city council in middle of the night


Mo Butt has been roundly criticized for his backward dealings with the Kensal Library.

In a move that has been roundly denounced as cowardly by protestors, the Brent city council ordered the removal of all materials from the Kensal Rise Library — a decision that was implemented at 2 AM when 15 security guards and 12 police men were sent to the library while “save the library” campaigners were not present.

Among the items and objects removed were murals produced in the 1930s, a plaque commemorating the library’s opening, and all the library’s books. This comes after the Save Kensal Rise Library felt they had arrived at an agreement with the actual owner of the building, All Souls College. The Guardian reports:

The council has claimed the library’s future is out of its hands as the building has legally reverted to its original landlords: All Souls College, Oxford. But the Save Kensal Rise Library campaigners point to a letter received in March from the college, which says that All Souls “would be happy to consider the library being kept open”, as proposed in their business plan.

At a meeting with the new council leader, Muhammed Butt, last week they asked him to hold off stripping the library until he had organised a meeting with the college, the council and the campaigners. At that meeting, the campaigners say he promised that the murals and furniture would not be taken.

The library, which opened in 1891 with a ceremony featuring Mark Twain, who was staying nearby while avoiding his American creditors, is closing as part of a series of austerity measures to save money. So while the library had to close, the payroll for 26 cops and security professionals to hastily remove the library’s contents, well, that apparently is an acceptable use of funds. This is particularly sad when you consider that this show of force might not have been needed, should All Souls College have elected to keep the library open.

The fight is not over yet. The clandestine removal has been publicly condemned by writers Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson and Zadie Smith. The core movement to save the library has pledged to keep up the fight. Again, The Guardian reports:

Margaret Bailey, from Save Kensal Rise Library, said: “This action this morning is proof that the council had no intention of trying to ensure that the reverter on the library had not been triggered. Councillor Mo Butt said he wanted to listen to the community, engage with them. This is how he listens. By taking this action he has jeopardised the ability of this community to run this library. We may be finished with Brent council but our campaign continues. We will not let their cowardly, middle of the night plundering defeat us.”


Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.