Tuesday 10 July 2012

Mark Twain House: Brent needs 'mental food'

Dear Secretary Hunt, Minister Vaizey and Brent Council Members, 

Good morning!  I would like to grab a moment of your time and some brief attention as you hurriedly prepare for the arrival of the Olympians this Summer.  Stateside, we are all very excited to see how you celebrate this monumental event!  There is great anticipation for the Olympics as it is a wonderful opportunity for the world to come together in the spirit of competition and excellence.  It is, of course, also an opportunity for you to showcase the assets of your great city.

One of the assets of any city, any culture or any society great is its repository of knowledge.  Mark Twain, the man we honor here at his home in Hartford, CT, USA, knew this when he said:
“A public library is the most enduring of memorials, the trustiest monument for the preservation of an event or a name or an affection; for it, and it only, is respected by wars and revolutions, and survives them.”
The one thing Twain might not have anticipated a library having to survive is our current economy.  Another of his wonderful quotes:
“The lack of money is the root of all evil.”
I understand, due to tight budget constraints, you have had to close or are considering closure of several libraries in the Brent borough of London.  This may seem necessary to bring shortfalls in budget in line.  Being an American, I may not know the difference between a chip and a crisp or a loo and a lift, but I do know that closing a library is an Olympian decision where everyone loses.  We all know that libraries are important, vital and essential to the livelihood of a community, especially a financially challenged one. 

In 1900, Mark Twain on a visit to Dollis Hill attended the opening and dedication of your historic Kensal Rise Library.  It is dismaying to hear of its closure, but the reason is not so surprising.  Twain, in a way, anticipated it at its opening:
“If the community is anxious to have a reading-room it would put its hand in its pocket and bring out the penny tax.  I think it a proof of the healthy, moral, financial, and mental condition of the community if it taxes itself for its mental food.”
I would heartily encourage you in your decision-making roles to reconsider the closure of libraries and find the means to reopen ones like Kensal Rise that may have already found themselves on the chopping block.  

What you are losing in a library cannot be replaced in a community.  You are leaving a legacy, much as Twain left a legacy of 5 books when he helped dedicate Kensal Rise’s library.  I pledge, on behalf of The Mark Twain House & Museum, to personally come over to Kensal Rise with another 5 books to donate at the rededication of this irreplaceable institution.  

Looking at the Brent Council website, I can see that you are all incredibly attractive.  On top of that, you are incredibly diverse.  I hope that in your diversity you can find unity of purpose to make sure that you nourish your community with, as Twain called it, “mental food.”

I wish you the best with your Olympic preparations and hope you can clear the hurdles to return your libraries to full operations.

Jacques Lamarre
Director of Communications
The Mark Twain House & Museum
351 Farmington Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105

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