Wednesday 25 July 2012

All Souls urged to bring their original spirit of enlightenment to Kensal Rise issue

Lindsey Davis, Chair of the Society of Authors, has written to the Warden of All Souls College, Oxford, about the situation at Kensal Rise Library.
Dear Warden,

Like many people I was horrified by the uncivilised scenes when Kensal Rise Library was recovered by Brent Council in the middle of the night.  I won't dwell on that. If nothing else, All Souls must be aware what a terrible PR disaster it was. I am writing to you both in my position as Chair of the Society of Authors and personally, as a concerned Oxford alumna. I remember that friends of mine who read Law were fortunate to use the wonderful Codrington Library in their studies.

I was ashamed to see an institution of my university, and a registered charity, involved in actions that were reported so luridly. There has long been a spirit that Oxford colleges, often unobtrusively, bring help and enlightenment to deprived areas (my own has a Settlement in a poor area of London, for instance) The same spirit would appear to be behind the original grant of the land at Kensal Rise under a restrictive covenant to the people of that area, the gift to stand as long as the building was used as a library.

I understand that the library doors are now locked and All Souls have put a security guard inside - a sad image. As I believe you are advertising for tenants, may I say on behalf of the Society, that we hope All Souls will bear in mind the importance of public libraries at a time when so many are threatened with closure. I wrote recently in The Bookseller about what libraries had meant to me , growing up in a depressed city environment and a home where money was tight, eventually allowing me to be one of the first in my family to go to university, and Oxford at that.

Of course you have financial responsibilities, though in this context I was interested to see recently that Lord Hodgson has suggested making it easier for charities to invest in social enterprises by scrapping the requirement that charities have to maximise profits. Perhaps this would help All Souls in their current predicament. Perhaps, since you have the original grant of land as a precedent, you might even anticipate the change.

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