Monday, 27 June 2011

The Library in a Phone Box

**UPDATE** For a more complete and up to date list of phone box libraries, try this page here

I like libraries, I like the idea of libraries, the first ever grown up work I did was in a library. I'm a bit saddened by all these library closures going on, but I completely understand the need for the state to cut spending and cut the budget deficit. Its the way things are right now, and at some point in the future the tide will turn and library closures will cease.

I wondered has there ever been a golden age of libraries, were new libraries were being opened all the time. It appears not in my lifetime. For the past thirty years the trend has been to close down local branch libraries and move them to 'new' centralised larger ones.

So I was thinking what would a trend turning the closures round look like? Opening new smaller, hyper-efficient model local libraries?

And a little lightbulb came on in ma heid, a half remembered remembory about some village where they'd converted an old phone box into a library. So I trudged onto google, and it appears there's not just one, but loads of them, all over England.

1. Westbury-Sub-Mendip, Somerset

The earliest one I've found is was reported at the end of November 2009, and got quite a bit of media coverage, the BBC reported on it and it dominates the google search results for phonebox libraries. Apparently "A resident dreamed up the idea when the village lost its phone box and mobile library in quick succession." It looks like it could have been promoted via BT press release to support their Adopt a Kiosk scheme.

Its quoted as stocking a hundred books, and looks like its got four shelves, plus heaps and a box for children's books

2. St Margaret South Elmham, Suffolk

Over a year later reports of another one appear on the internet, this time in Suffolk. EDP reporting on one in St Margaret South Elmham, again as part of BT's Adopt a Kiosk scheme, this was amongst 'hundreds' adopted in Norfolk and Suffolk. "villagers have transformed theirs into a “swap box” – one of the country’s smallest lending libraries." One of the smallest, in that its exactly the same size as all the other phone box libraries. No figures are given as to the number of books, but it seems that as part of the scheme BT 'absorb' the £200 a year cost of the electricity for lighting. I wonder who maintains that.

From the photo it looks like at least three shelves, but no sign of stacking.

3. Marton cum Grafton, Yorkshire

At the end of summer 2010, the BBC reported on another, this one in North Yorkshire. Again this is more of a book exchange place, run by kids, and the BBC report is just of it being a three-month trial scheme. That was due to finish in December 2010, I can't find any word on whether its been continued. Perhaps if its kids from a specific school running the show then it'll be continued by each successive year.

Whilst there are five shelves, only three have books lines up, on has long photo of the village and the lowest one has the children's book box.

4. Hatton, Warrington
At the end of 2010 the Warrington Guardian spoke of a plan to convert a phone box on the corner of a pub into a library by putting shelves in, and then requesting book donations. By the end of January Warrington Worldwide was rep on it, and had a photo of it in operation full of books and being used by two locals at the same time

Looks like at least three shelves and a magazine rack on the wall, can't tell if there is a children's book box.

5. Cotebrooke, Cheshire

In January 2010, The Northwich Guardian reported on one opening, members of the parish council jumped at the chance to take over the old phone box when BT were going to decommission it.

They even managed to improve on the traditional library:-
“And the great thing is, they don't have to worry about return dates, which makes it even better than a traditional library.”
Five staggered shelves, with an initial book count of 60.

6. Apethorpe, Cambridgeshire

In the first few months of 2011, The Apethorpe News blog was reporting on the plans to open a phonebox library there. There was plea for books and DVDs, but no new news since March.

Google maps just shows a regular phone box with no evidence of books, so who knows.

7. Point, Truro

The BBC had a video report in March 2011 for the 'book stop' in Point, near Truro, which has been established in response to the mobile library service only coming round every two weeks

Five quite bulky shelves taking up a lot of internal space, only four with books, possibly some more squeezed on top. No sign of children's books box.

8. Feock, Truro

At the end of March, the In The Kernow site has a video report and the Point library and a similar one in Feock, mentioning a launch party at the start of April.

From the video it looks like this has far better shelving than Point's, around six shelves, with a audio-cassette rack too, not sure how many books though

9. Staplehay, Somerset
In the middle of April, the Somerset County Gazette reported on a phone box library opening in Staplehay, which would have been opening on the 18th of April by a councillor from Westbury-Sub-Mendip, as it was directly inspired by. They're proud of the fact that whilst local libraries are reducing their opening hours, the phone box is available 24 hours a day.

Four shelves and a magazine rack, extra points for having a notice board too

10. Horsley, Surrey

At the end of May the BBC reported on one in operation in Horsley, Surrey.

Its more of a guerilla phone box/library conversion compared to the others, less of a community involvement and more of a lone eccentric. In the BBC piece it reports that BT have no knowledge of this one.

Does this even count, looks more like someone hiding rude books I guess it could count as four shelves, but its a bit half-arsed.

11. Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire

A few weeks ago the parish council website for Little Shelford in Cambridgeshire featured a piece on their phonebox library, explaining how to use it, including the vital feedback loop

...for really popular books, if you see a book you fancy reading one time you visit and the next time it’s gone, make a note on the Post-it pad and stick it on the window asking for it to be returned as soon as the last borrower has finished reading it (in other words ‘swopped back into stock’) so that you can get your hands on it. That way the person who borrowed it will know that it is in some demand.
It looks like a clearly laid out box, four shelves of books, one shelf that looks empty and a box for children's books.

12. Thruxton, Hampshire

In the absence of any photo of the Thruxton phonebox library as reported in This Is Hampshire a few weeks ago, I thought I would go for a wee drive in the country and check it out for myself. The weather was glorious, the sky all blue and roasty toasty. We came off mighty A303, weaved our way through some narrow country lanes and there it was before us, Thruxton's own phone box library. We were told by a villager stood nearby that it had been open for about six weeks and it took a while but they've got the balance between people dropping off books and picking up new one's just right.

Its a solid three shelf affair with excess books stacked on top of the top shelf. I left a some feminist books and a Bill Drummond autobiography.

13. Shirley, Derbyshire

The one in Shirley Derbyshire is a bit of an odd story, apparently the council bought it in 2009, but it took until June 2011 for the BBC to report on it. Some neat quotes in the article though
Bill Ellis, from Shirley Parish Council, said: "Even we can stretch to a quid and so it was bought."

The Ashbourne News Telegraph has the interesting tiot-bit that the phonebox library has really taken off even though the village being serviced by a mobile library.

At least seven shelves on two sides, containing 250 books, and childrens books and DVDs.

And others:-
  • Coxley, Somerset
  • Dinder, Somerset
  • West and East Horrington, Somerset
  • Blagdon, Bristol
  • Tollerton, Nottingham
  • Timsbury, Bath
Here's a map I put together showing the approximate locations across England

View Phone box libraries in a larger map

Sure, this is all mostly as a result of BT's Adopt a Kiosk scheme and a lot of them might be little more than a book exchange scheme, more akin to finding a book left on a park bench, but these are very real examples of 'the local community' doing it for themselves.

Is there a disconnect between what professional librarians say are the services provided by libraries, somewhere quiet to read and do homework, free internet access, someone to point them in the right direction for research, etc, and what the local community want as a library which by way of phone box libraries is just access to different books?

There's three angles at work here:-
  • There's the state by way of democratically elected national government and local councils who have decided to cut back on and centralise library services as a cost saving in preferences to other things that could be cut.
  • There's the state by way of the appointed professional librarians who are paid for their expertise in librarianship who want to stop the cuts and ensure that the wider services provided by libraries are retained
  • and finally there's the state by way of people in local communities, who, regardless of other provisions and decisions elsewhere, identify the need and then establish the phone box libraries.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Philip Davies and the minimum wage for disabled people

An MP called Philip Davies didn't seem to be very popular on my Facebook newsfeed and Tweeter feeds last week, he'd allegedly said something along the lines of disabled employees should be paid less than other employees. That's clearly discriminatory and just shows how evil Conservatives and right-wingers in general are.

One twitterer reckoned that Philip Davies thinks that Stephen Hawking should be working for below minimum wage.

On a related note, this time three years ago I was very much unemployed, claiming job seekers allowance at a rate of about £1.80 an hour. After eight months of unemployment, I somehow managed to scrape myself into a minimum wage job sweeping floors in a sandwich factory, where I was the only native English speaker on the shop floor for around £5.75 and hour. It was sheer hell, After a few months I displayed a bit of talent and got myself transferred to the Quality department and got a 50p pay rise to £6.25 per hour. After six months of walking to work at 4am to be moaned at and given impossible tasks, I handed in my resignation and signed up to a temping agency and got a job for £10 an hour filing in an office in regular office hours, and after twelve months of turn up on time every day I was taken of full time permanent at around £12.30 per hour, which is about the same as I was on at the peak of my previous career in British hifi manufacturing.

Its like an employment ladder, you start on the bottom rung and work your way updeveloping your talents, self-esteem and trust with your employers.

Anyhoo, back to Philip Davies MP, his name was familiar to me, one of the libertarian blogs I subscribe, Dick Puddlecoat, has Philip Davies as their blog mascot and reports on when he's done anything note-worthy in parliament.

It seems that rather than saying that disabled people are subhuman scum should be paid less than able-bodied people for doing the same work, he said:-
If those people who consider it [the minimum wage] is being a hindrance to them, and in my view that's some of the most vulnerable people in society, if they feel that for a short period of time, taking a lower rate of pay to help them get on their first rung of the jobs ladder, if they judge that that is a good thing, I don't see why we should be standing in their way.

I can see kind of where's he's coming from even if I don't agree, I'm empathic like that, its one of my skillz.I could be mistaken, but it doesn't look like he's suggesting that anyone is forced to take a pay cut. Unless you've got what could be considered a imaginary evil tory strawman in mind, that you want to project concepts and policies onto to justify your own opposing beliefs.
For days I've been rumbling in ma heid if I should blog about this and how, how I would frame it all. I want to raise reader's ire, but at the same time I want to cover my back against the sort of claims Philip Davies faced for being evil.
So here's a few bullet points:-
  • How come young people are on a lower minimum wage? that's already enshrined in law, is it as evil as having a lower minimum wage for disabled people? More so perhaps? Is their labour somehow worth less than elder workers? Or is it accepted that inexperienced labour is worth less. Did anyone accuse the 1998 government of being evil? Well, yes.
  • The old strawberry picking / minimum wage line. A punnet of strawberries is worth X amount of money. That's how much they sell for in the shops. So if you can't collect a minimum wages worth of strawberries in an hour then the employer would be making a loss by employing you compared to someone who can, so you'll never get the job. Sure with a bit of practice you might become faster at collecting strawberries, but under the current system, you're going to have to be a volunteer and provide your labour for free until you're fast enough, unless you find an uneconomically generous strawberry farmer. If your labour isn't yet worth £5.75 no one will buy. Would you pay £1.89 for a 16p can of lager?
  • Why would you want to stay in a minimum wage job for ages. Can't you make yourself better at doing something and then get a better job? Why would you stay where there are only minimum wage jobs. Millions of people travel thousands of miles in search of better jobs all the time. Some of my colleagues in the sandwich factory, on their minimum wage, would send money back home, cos the jobs back home paid so little in comparison.
  • In London a return the underground cost about £5. In Glasgow a return ticket costs £2.40. Down south a minimum wage worker has to work twice as long just to get to work. Likewise house prices and rents vary enormously across the country. The minimum wage is hell in some places and more comfortable in others. Sometimes for two people working side-by side.

Anyhoo, in my Walthamstow survivalist cabin these points are moot, Philip Davies is wrong, the disabled, the vulnerable should not be singled out for special dispensation of the minimum wage. The main thrust of my argument about minimum wage, be it for the disabled, young people and everyone else, is this:- Minimum wage should be a personal choice.
The state shouldn't have anything to do with it.
What is the minimum wage that you specifically would work for?

People are very rarely forced to work in the UK, slave labour is the exception and against the law. Its a free choice. If you work you get paid money, if you don't you then you are beholden to the state on benefits. If you've got a shit job, feel free to quit.
Also, what makes you think that the minimum wage that you would chose to work for is the same as the minimum wage that any other person else would chose to work for?
Now since I typed this piece, I've read up the wikipedia page on minimum wage, the Minimum Wage Act UK 1998 and the actual Hansard debate from whence Philip Davies has been quoted. And also via twitter, a variety of other bloggists have written on the matter, some with similar opinions, some raging, and some widely differing.

  • Some people like concept of the minimum wage
  • Some people don't like the idea of it
  • Some disabled people like the idea of the minimum wage
  • Some disabled people don't like the idea of the minimum wage
  • Some people thing the minimum wage is too low
  • Some evidence shows that the minimum wage is a good positive thing
  • Some evidence shows that the minimum wage is a bad negative thing
  • Some evidence is overwhelmingly authoritative and conclusive
  • People chose to support and promote which ever evidence and research supports their own views

I remember back when I was unemployed, I thought at the time that the minimum wage was too high and I'd willingly work for less in order to not be unemployed. I still do. I think people should be able to opt out of the minimum wage. Luckily they can.
There are plenty of employers who, outwith the system, pay below minimum wage regardless of the law.
Anyhoo, if we must have a minimum wage dictated by the state, I propose this:-
A higher minimum wage for disabled people and special groups
The option to opt out of the minimum wage in order to undercut people competing for the same job
Satisfied? I thought so.
The text of the debate -
Wikipedia Minimum Wage -
Wikipedia National Minimum Wage Act 1998 -
Bruce Lawson -
Devils Kitchen -
Dick Puddlecoat -
Jackart -
Old Holborn -
Politics Student -

My Wage Ladder

Addendum to my earlier minimum wage post

I feel the need to make several points very clear to avoid confusion and misunderstandings regarding my earlier post on Philip Davies's comments about vulnerable people and the minimum wage.

Firstly, people all over the world suffer in terrible conditions, people are still dying from preventable causes. Rape is used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Libya. There's still research to be done on a cure for Aids and cancer. The climate is changing. In such a context, the minimum wage and Philip Davies's views aren't that important.

Secondly, I am not advocating that anyone has money taken away from them. I am not suggesting that people who currently earn £5.93 an hour should have a pay cut forced on them. If a person has agreed with an employer to do a job for an agreed hourly wage, the state should not be able to change that agreement.

Thirdly, the Wikipedia entry on the minimum wage carries quite a literature review on the various research on the positive and negative outcomes and effects of the minimum wage, it also covers criticism of the various research. Whether such research can be considered conclusive really depends on your own biases. I reckon it clearly shows that national minimum wage levels are a bad thing, other people may just a rightly disagree. It's not even clear cut whether its clear cut.

Fourthly, I believe some conservatives and right-wingers are evil and some are good. The same thing can be said of any grouping of people. More generally, some individuals, in my opinion are cunts.

Another thing what occurred to me after discussing this with @FrFintonStack on twitter, is that as a compromise, the unions are in a better position to negotiate a minimum wage with an employer than the state.

No one knows what an individual's minimum wage should be better than the individual themself. The government in trying to set one national level for everyone, can never have enough information on the individuals needs and the employers finances to make a correct judgement. But a union in a workplace, with their local collective might, that's a better compromise than the current situation.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Carving: A week passes

Whittling is so much fun. I come home from work, check the mail, grab my Wilkinsons £4.98 chisel set and sidle into the back yard.

I started off last week just using a stanley knife and a steel rule to get the right spacing and the initial cuts. But now I'm going at it like hammer and tongs chiselling out the screw thread.

Sure its a little wonky, but hey, its my first attempt at this sort of thing and it looks just like how its supposed to according to my plan.
Yeah, so like the pitch is 4cm and because I have two starts the lead is 8cm. I'm aiming to get the thread depth to be around 30%, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do that with just a knife and chisels, so at some point I'm going to have to acquire a nice file, but that'll be in a few weeks.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Carving: The initial idea

There's this bit in Twin Peaks where Cooper and Trueman are sat in a police car and have the following exchange:-
Cooper: Wanna know why I'm whittling?
Truman: OK, I'll bite. Why are you whittling?
Cooper: Because that's what you do in a town where a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up.
I quite fancy whittling, I fancy carving something, making some thing out of wood just using like a knife and my own cunning.

I have an apple tree, its bound to produce dozens of apples, I could make my own cider, if only I had a cider press.

I'm not sure quite how cider presses usually work, but I drew a wee sketch of how I would make one:-

Great isn't it? Some huge lump of wood with a screwthread carved round it, sitting in the middle of a frame.

It took me ages to find the huge lump of wood, B&Q and Homebase had nothing even close to the size I wanted, then I remembered, I work at a depot where they regularly cut down trees. So, I got me a log.

Now I've got me some whittling to do.

Plants and stuff: About apples

Regular readers and perusers of this blog will be aware that my apple tree is named Huey Lewis. This is what he looked like a month ago:-

Around the 19th of May he was growing these cool like reddy pink bud things

They were all down his branches

About three days later they opened up into these lovely white flowers

At this juncture I'd like to introduce Doreen two spots

She's a ladybird, I like to think she provides 'security' for Huey Lewis, eating up greenfly and aphid type dudes who might be causing him trouble.

Anyhoo, so them buds keep blossoming

and about a week later they've done their thing and start to shed their petals.

And then, well, if the bumblebees and dirty pollen spreading insects have done their job then the dead blossomy bits will turn into apples.

If not, then we're just left with the memory of those happy times at the end of May when Huey Lewis tried so hard.

Plants and stuff: Definitive listing

It occurred to me at a gig the other day that I may well have seen over a thousand bands play live in my life. I was watching some grungey distortiony three-piece called Old Forest at the Brixton Windmill, and I wondered what number they were.

Alas when I got back to civilisation I checked up on and was saddened to find out I've only seen 904 different bands. Sure its not that accurate an account and I may have missed a few when counting, but I couldn't have missed 90, I couldn't be out by 10%.

Anyhoo, back to gardening, we've got loads of plants doing their growing thing, possibly over a hundred, but I'm not sure if I can be bothered counting each individual plant. On the other hand, counting the varieties and species isn't that difficult, and so to sate my craving for counting things and making lists, this is a list of all the different plants we have on the go right now:-

  1. Apple – cooking
  2. Basil
  3. Beetroot
  4. Blueberry
  5. Cabbage - Savoy
  6. Cabbage - unknown variety
  7. Chives
  8. Cornflowers
  9. Coriander
  10. Cucumber
  11. Dying bathroom tree
  12. Gooseberry
  13. Lavender
  14. Lemon Thyme
  15. Lettuce - Curly moss
  16. Nasturtiums
  17. Onions - spring
  18. Parsley
  19. Peppers
  20. Poppies
  21. Potatoes - unknown variety
  22. Radishes
  23. Random red tree stolen from work
  24. Raspberry
  25. Rhubarb
  26. Rosemary
  27. Squash
  28. Tomatoes - Gardeners Delight
  29. Tomatoes - Money maker

Who'd have thunk it? Twenty nine different plants! Gor, there's enough bio-diversity there that if some science fiction disaster wiped out all vegetative matter on the planet, you could restock just from my English garden.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Dreams: On completing computer games

You know when you die and in some religions and belief systems, you're judged. Maybe at some pearly gates, some gent called Peter is deciding whether to let you in.

Yeah, sure, if you've done bad stuff like killing people, or pushing in front of queues, that really counts against you badly. But like if you've saved people's lives and always waited patiently in queues then that's a good thing, you get extra heaven bonus points or something. You probably broadly agree with that.

And book, reading books all the way through thats a positive, you get points for it, it broadens your mind, and enriches your life and the whole human race. So I reckon starting books and not finishing them, that's going to count against you right? Otherwise you could just go to a library and read the first page of loads of books, and rack up the points, so, you only get points if you finish a book.

Are we all agreed?


So now, computer games. I'm thinking to get a good gig in heaven with the maximum number of heaven points, the same logic applies and completing computer games is something I've got to do.

I'm comfortable with buying games and never playing them, heck I have plenty of Xbox 360 games, but no console to play them on.

But starting games and playing them a bit, and giving up, that's a big no no.

Its a matter of after-life and death, right?