Brent Council has faced mounting criticism for its midnight raid to strip Kensal Rise Library of books and plaques, with the Royal Society of Literature the latest to condemn the act as “philistinism”.
A spokesperson for the RSL has called the removal of books from Kensal Rise Library by council workers guarded by police between 2am and 3am yesterday (29th May) as “an act of philistinism bordering on vandalism”.
The spokesperson said: “The council of the Royal Society of Literature, which has consistently opposed the closure of public libraries, is appalled to hear of the action taken by Brent Council in the former Kensal Rise Library in the early hours of this morning.” He added: “We gather that a council group, guarded by a dozen policemen, unscrewed from the wall and removed the brass plaque commemorating the opening of the building by Mark Twain in 1900, and the plaque marking the centenary of the same event.
"This appears to be an act of philistinism bordering on vandalism, and we wonder what the justification for it can be."
Authors Michael Holroyd, Maggie Gee and Michael Frayn have all criticised the council’s actions. Holroyd said: “The wanton destruction of the Kensal Rise Library—its books removed, its history erased—is a gross act of philistinism which will bring lasting shame to all involved", while Gee said the council’s behaviour would “horrify anyone who still recalls Labour's founding mission to share education, knowledge and hope with the people." She added: “We will continue to fight for our library.”
Frayn also turned his criticism on the owner of the building, All Souls College, for demanding too high a rent for campaigners to run the library voluntarily. “Not too late for it to change its mind, I hope," he said.
But today (30th May)the college confirmed in an article in the Independent that the building will be put on the market to be sold or rented out. “We really wish this had not happened and we regret that it has,” a spokesman for the college said.
Children’s author Alan Gibbons has called on the public to write to Labour leader Ed Miliband to protest about Brent Council’s actions. The council leader, Mohammad Butt, belongs to the Labour party. In his letter, Gibbons said: “Many in the audience will have hoped the Labour Party would offer an alternative to the coalition government’s savaging of the public library service. If you are to credibly claim to truly stand up for libraries you
must act now and condemn the actions of the Labour council in Brent.”
Kensal Rise library has been the subject of a long campaign with supporters including authors Zadie Smith, Philip Pullman and Alan Bennett. Alongside five other Brent libraries, it was closed in 2011 after legal challenges in the High Court and Court of Appeal failed to get the council's plans ruled unlawful.
Yesterday, a Brent council spokesman said: "On the advice of the police, the council removed its property from the building in the early hours of the morning. We will now hand the keys back to All Souls College.
"The books and other materials will be sorted and distributed amongst the council's six
libraries for the use of all Brent residents. The council has committed to contacting All Souls College on behalf of the Friends of Kensal Rise Library to enable discussion between the two parties."