Set aside differences: a rallying call for unified action

The passing away of a key figure in the history of the Upper Norwood Library Campaign, Major W P J Silva, prompts us to reflect on the crisis that the Library is facing today and his particular views on it, and to reiterate why they are still relevant.

In 1992 he understood that the matter of adequate funding needed to be resolved. His plea to Lambeth and Croydon was based on the tradition of co-operation that had kept the spirit and concept of the Joint Agreement alive and relevant, plus pride in the good work that both boroughs could achieve for the Library when working together. He knew that the Councillors held great weight in influencing the funding of the Library. Indeed, the Joint Committee comprises Councillors across the political parties and the Cabinet Members from each borough for this very purpose. A decade later, the Joint Committee under Cllr Russell A’Court’s chairmanship co-operated democratically for the good of the Library, showing how it can be done.

“The political parties must work constructively and positively together in the interests of the Library”

Yet at present there is too much politicking, too much self-interest, and too many excuses for avoiding responsibilities. The Campaign and the local community call on the members of the Joint Committee, the Councils and the political parties to work constructively and positively together in the interests of the Library. The Campaign exists, not to obstruct beneficial development, but to play its part in underlining:-

  • the importance of UNJL to the community
  • this institution is more than a library, and must continue the time-honoured joint nature of this unique establishment
  • the necessity to grant this special institution the high budget priority it is entitled to so far as to ensure the allocation of funds
  • the need for long-term financial commitment by Lambeth and Croydon instead of short-term adjustments

These concerns, also as stated in 1992, and previously, are still relevant today:-

  • that UNJL is not a branch library, but a special category that deserves special treatment
  • that the real reason for under-funding is not shortage of money but that the Councils do not afford UNJL the priority it deserves
  • that any take-over by either borough because of the other’s unwillingness to participate fully in its welfare and service would result in negating its identity and spirit of the Library’s Joint status and be a huge loss to the community
  • that economic and political imperatives must not be allowed to control the fate of the Library
  • the importance and robustness of the concept, terms and spirit of the Joint Agreement means it is sufficient in itself to maintain the security of the Library
  • the Joint Library has existed as an institution for almost 110 years, and has the capability of enduring to serve the cultural, intellectual and social needs of the daily lives of the community

 Refusal to compromise is often seen as a mark of good administration. Compromise is, like pacifism, a difficult principle to fight for. It demands an ability to see the opposite point of view, and, therefore, some restraint of passion. It is, consequently, contradictory to show too much conviction in its favour, and it doesn’t make for great campaign slogans – “What do we want? Compromise. When do we want it? Well, what would work for you?”

It is, nonetheless, common and essential currency in cultivating good relationships for the common good. On the other hand, there are so many forces aligned against getting anything good achieved, that to do so calls for a degree of determination that borders on bloody-mindedness. If it is this, then that is one more reason why good things are not achieved. Lack of common ground results in stalemate.

Of course, core values should be preserved at all costs, and everyone is entitled to make a stand on an issue of their choosing as say “this far and no further”. Otherwise, there is a point beyond which a refusal to compromise ceases to be admirable and just becomes pain.

Things are never what they seem. In truth, the Library’s position is fragile, but its core concept is immaculate.

Those of us who believe that compromise is a fatal sign of weakness to contemplate, there is a possibility they might be wrong. Let’s meet half way at least.

Have we all had enough of the platitudes; of excuses not to do this or that; of attaching blame to someone else to avoid responsibility or duty; or the clouding of issues? Can we not work positively and constructively together in unison for the benefit of the Library, the Community and both Councils?

The answer has to be a resounding YES!

Then, let’s make it happen.