The collapse of public libraries as a source of information
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Wishing to consult a copy of Michael Robbins' excellent second volume of Barker and Robbins' A history of London Transport.: passenger travel and the development of the Metropolis. London: Allen & Unwin for the London Transport Executive published in 1974 it was found that only Volume 1 is available in Norfolk, probably as a result of the major fire in Norwich Central Library in August 1994 (and the failure of the library staff to correct this lack). I thought: "I wonder if there is a copy in Ipswich" (thinking that a town with a football club in a superior division might have a superior library, but no). In spite of Network Rail making a journey across Essex akin to crossing Siberia there is no copy of this seminal work on the shelves in Colchester or Chelmsford: one would have to travel to Epping where it is in the local collection (and a Tube service).

Rustic Norfolk manages to have at least half a dozen copies of Cymbeline (Shakespeare's worst play) in its miserable collection of books. Are libraries perceived solely as a sort of filling station for "literature"? No doubt the "no demand" would be given as the excuse.

Other semi-complete sets (that is at least one volume missing) of significant contributions to the study of railway history in Norfolk include George Dow's Great Central, John Marshall's Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, MacDermot's History of' the Great Western Railway, and Gourvish's British Railways, 1948-73: a business history. What would these literary females (they are mainly of that sex) make of Shakespeare sets without Cymbeline? Further, some extraordinary multiple purchases have been made: thus there are two copies of some of the excellent LMS Locomotive Profiles, but a lack of any copies of others: once again this is like complete sets of Shakespeare minus Cymbeline.

It is not surprising that the essential Biographical dictionary of civil engineers in Great Britain and Ireland is lacking from the shelves of the Millenium Library in spite of being post the Great Fire of Norwich, and it needs to be emphasised that several Norfolk families are mentioned within it. Normally, a work of fiction only needs to incorporate the phrase "took the bus to Norwich" for fifty copies to be acquired.

A charge of £7 is made to borrow copies of material from outside Norfolk (that is most literature is only available on subscription).  Even within the County it is 60 pence per item and no reduction is made for multiple volumes. Normally it is chaeper to buy secondhand copies via Amazon. In Scotland there is a central library which can be accessed free from charge. There is an urgent need for a comparable facility in England, especially on the North Slope. It would help if libraries were organized on a regional (the Hertfordshire reserve collection in Welwyn Garden City just north of the M25 sits idle most of the time, but the stock may be borrowed by any British citizen and the staff are very helpful) or national basis.

It is also about time that "copyright" on material more than ten years from publication was abolished: this is an unjustifiable barrier to access to information and imposes daft prices on secondhand material (from which the copyright holder gains nothing). A digital revolution is promised but is not happening. Instead a new breed of electronic Robert Maxwells is emerging..

By some miracle Norwich has a Premier League football team: its library and concert halls are non-league as its train service, especially to the north and west. Politicians visit the "city" when elections threaten, but otherwisee neglect this major regional commercial centre. The service from Norwich to Scotland was better in the days of steam.

updated 2015-11-08