The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Professor Branestawm and A Crisis For Our Libraries

When Professor Branestawm realises he has lost the book he has borrowed from Great Pagwell Library, he comes up with the perfect solution.
He will simply borrow a different copy of the same title from another library and take that copy back to Great Pagwell, and then take it out again the next day and return it to the library from which he had actually borrowed it: Little Pagwell.
Thus he will avoid having to pay a fine for losing the book. But of course it doesn’t end there.
In order to go on avoiding having to pay a fine, he will have to repeat this process every few days: taking the book out of Great Pagwell to return it to Little Pagwell and then borrowing it again from Little Pagwell to take it back to Great Pagwell.
Fair enough. But it gets more complicated.
Because then the professor loses his second copy of the book and then has to take out a copy from the library at Upper Pagwell.
In this delightful farce from Norman Hunter, the professor ends up having to borrow copies from the libraries at Pagwell Town, Pagwell Village, Old Pagwell, New Pagwell, North Pagwell, South Pagwell, West Pagwell, Pagwell Central, Pagwell Hill, Pagwell Docks and Pagwell Gardens.
This wonderful story was written in the 1930s, a time when it would have been quite possible for a place to have a dozen district libraries.
Here in 2015, with crippling budget controls in place, libraries are disappearing all over the country - even in Pagwell, I dare say.
The magnificent Shrewsbury Library on Castle Gates stands as a beacon for a service which has been quietly, unobtrusively loved by successive generations.
But while we here in the county town might not be aware of it, libraries a few miles down the road are under threat.
Pontesbury and Church Stretton spring to mind.
We now hear that libraries could be run alongside GP surgeries as Shropshire Council looks to make a 30 per cent cut in funding.
The ‘health hubs’ would offer general library services and internet access while also being the base for an NHS community care co-ordinator, according to proposals put forward by David Sandbach, a former chief officer at Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital.
This idea has been backed in principal by officials at Shropshire Council.
The future of Shropshire’s libraries remains unclear with more cuts in funding potentially on the horizon, and the council wanting 22 of its libraries to be taken over by community groups.
Oh dear. In Branestawm’s world, Pagwell Gardens and Pagwell Docks would be merging, Pagwell Town would be in the process of being taken over by the Women’s Institute, and most of the others would be closing altogether.
Speaking during a meeting of Shropshire Council’s health and wellbeing board, Mr Sandbach said Pontesbury Library was one that could benefit from the health hub plan.
At the moment, options for Pontesbury include moving the library into the local school in a similar scheme to Church Stretton where the town library is to shut and be run from Church Stretton School.
For those of us who love books and love libraries, it’s all rather sad.
It strikes me that if Professor Branestawm had been living now, his plan to shuffle books from one library to another would be a non-starter.

Phil Gillam’s gentle novel of family life, Shrewsbury Station Just After Six, is available from Pengwern Books, Fish Street, Shrewsbury.

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