Managed Decline


I read an interesting piece by Mark Fisher on how depression is actually impersonal and political rather than relating to specific childhood trauma. When we hear those snide inner voices saying ‘you’re useless.. what do you expect.. your failure to achieve is squarely down to you.. ‘ we have successfully internalized the lies of a dominant political ideology and are now suffering from a form of collective depression. And that’s what those in power like: a cowed and smashed up workforce too pathetic to even care about cuts and austerity. Our failure to thrive is not the fault of a bi-polar economy but our own individual hopelessness to seize all the unlimited gifts of twenty-first century capitalism. Is it, perhaps, because we aren’t worth it after all? Even advertising plays on this inner worthlessness.


Noel Fielding’s brother from The Mighty Boosh

Over the last ten years I’ve witnessed the managed decline of libraries with all the cynical bullshit about ‘front facing customer service skills,’ ‘floor-walking,’  ‘community hubs’ (ironically as communities are destroyed by closures and more cuts). Budgets are slashed and the managerial watchwords are now ‘resilience’ and ‘resourcefulness.’ These are the qualities the twenty first century librarian, sorry Customer Services Assistant, no um Customer Services Officer, no actually as yet unknown job title should aspire to.

Where I work the mentally ill throng to  one of the last places you can sit down without having to buy a coffee and tune out from the advertising.  A place where self-service kiosks break down daily and the librarian with a post graduate qualification smacks too much of elitism for our dumbed down, cash hungry management team. The removal of the role of librarian by those idiots in charge paid huge sums to come up with creative money-saving ideas to support the service have now resorted to the age-old device of sacking people. Staffing levels are so low and some buildings are so vast that things are dangerous; children’s libraries are left unmanned, a pretend Jihadi came to the reference library when I was working, shouted some verses from the Koran and ordered everyone to leave immediately while clutching his backpack. Predictably lack of staff caused pandemonium, students rushed out barefoot into the wet wintry streets, more chaos and fear and all the PR spiel about libraries being ‘information hubs’ when in fact they are more battered old hub caps rusting by the roadside.

Record  number of staff are off on stress– something I used to laugh about– being a soldier is stressful, dealing with a sick child but surely not wafting around the reserve stock looking for a rare folio– no one wants to work in this awful environment but the inner voice keeps needling: you’ve got a job… it’s winter and you’ll never reinvent yourself… it’s  all down to you…

But it isn’t.  After cuts and more cuts I was reinterviewed for my job by a team of people who worked in finance and knew nothing about libraries. A little boy scarcely pubic with tiny eyes and sadly resembling Jacob Rees Mogg stared stonily at me as he asked, ‘how have you adapted to change and what do you most enjoy about it?’ This to me was the final humiliation, not only do we have to eat shit but we have to tell all those in charge what a richly satisfying meal it is.



Filed under Libraries

5 responses to “Managed Decline

  1. Boom. What a killer final line, but what a shame you had to express it at all.

  2. I saw someone from the IEA on Channel 4 news saying that we didn’t need libraries any more because we have the internet. I’m old enough to remember when libraries were hallowed places filled with books, rather than soulless drop-in centres for people with literally nowhere else to go. My town council is planning to convert the library into some sort of ‘community hub’. Soon, only universities will have proper libraries and towns will have hubs full of homeless people catching up on their sleep.

    • Don’t believe the bullshit– community hub somehow a replacement for the lack of community services provide by local councils, increasingly the libraries are filling up with the mentally ill and an explosion of rough sleepers and at the same time the library’s budget is cut. Our Director imagines the modern library a s a completely empty building where people pop in to recharge their phones and stare up at the rafters

  3. smartrachael

    Our local library is considering membership card entry – no card, no entry. They will sieve out the homeless with their mental health problems seeking a chair. A hub of activity: the teenage youth club attached with its free pregnancy and careers advice where responsibly conceived middle-class Boden babies jazz it up to a sax player on Fridays.
    My friend who trained as a health visitor has just re-interviewed for a role she doesn’t want or must accept redundancy. She will provide mental health support to teenagers in schools – she has no formal training, knows about baby stools and formula feeding not psychosocial behaviour in adolescence, the risk factors of mental health triggers. She is woefully unqualified for the job but the good old NHS offer a six week training course to facilitate her to further sabotage young lives. I despair. I despair.

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