Brought to book

December 24, 1999

One result of increasing penury in our crumbling public library system has been unrestricted rises in charges for book reservations. Once pegged at the cost of a second-class stamp they now vary hugely - depending on the whim of the local authority and on the book's availability - from less than Pounds 1 to more than Pounds 5 (Library Association figures).

This is hardly in keeping with Andrew Carnegie's notion of "free libraries", and it is a matter on which culture secretary Chris Smith could and should act.

The huge resources of university libraries remain jealously guarded from the public - except in Sheffield, where the lucky locals enjoy almost total access.

Why doesn't the culture secretary force the two systems to amalgamate?

If local authorities and universities insist on behaving as businesses rather than institutions, then they should not balk at customers demanding a more effective service.

Barry Tebb


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