Two of the great instruments of popular education in this country, adult education and public libraries, are at risk. I have written much on adult education, but there is a similar undermining of the library service, both through cuts and the insidious growth of managerial gobbledygook. I mean, how can anyone have faith in a "modernisation review" of the library service that produces such nebulous, glossy jargon as "Empower, Inform, Enrich"? The document, for some reason, includes an essay by the managing director of Starbucks UK asking, "Can libraries learn anything from the coffee shop experience?"* Rachel Cooke in the Observer is scathing. It is worth reading this earlier piece of hers too.
I get the sense that an anxiety about being seen to be modern, leading to obsessions with fashionable notions such as the digital age or the knowledge economy, is obscuring the importance of a commitment to the old-fashioned and intrinsically simple notion of accessible popular education, itself fulfilling a human need and establishing a human right. Then again it does help relegate the importance of an embarrassing, politically inconvenient public commitment in an age of neoliberal political economy.
* My answer would be I bloody well hope not. I refer to the expertise of the man who sells the Big Issue outside Oxford Road Station. Last week he was disappointed that one of his customers had given him Starbucks vouchers for Christmas. "I won't go in the place", he said, "the coffee is overpriced mud. Use the Cornerhouse, you get a lovely latte in there".