The British Council lost interest in books some time ago and started a major programme of library closures in every continent. Libraries used to be the main, indeed for some the only, reason that people had anything to do with the organisation, but books don’t make money for them and energies have been more and more focused on money; the money that we taxpayers provide them with, the money that they don’t pay in tax, the money that they get from closed contracts from the British government, and the money they get from closed deals such as we have seen recently in Libya and Tunisia. Plus of course any other money they can dig out of people at home and abroad.
Nowhere has the British Council’s library closure programme created more controversy and more dismay than in India. We followed some of their pain on this blog, and the dispossessed booklovers built a special web site in protest. Despite the obvious and very strongly felt and articulated wish of what the British Council likes to call its “clients” in Kerala, the libraries closed, unhappily and messily. Such irony then that when the Kolkata Book Fair identified Scotland as the guest nation, what organisation should the Scots choose to represent their interests and organise their presence there? None other than British “we close libraries” Council.
The Scots themselves got in a tangle about all this of course with the high profile row about a £6000 “junket” for the Lord Provost George Grubb, who eventually had to pull out as a result of public pressure. The official Kolkata Book Fair web site tells us that the Fair was opened by Alexander McCall Smith sounding the gong “in the presence of the Rt. Hon Lord Provost George Grubb”. Wow. Or maybe not. Since it is unlikely that the British Council has cracked teleporting, I think we can be confident that this reporting is just a result of the usual British Council sloppiness.
They are no doubt seething over the double standards of the British Council in Kerala, but the good news is that the canny Scots saved £6000 and managed to get their Lord Provost reported as being at the Kolkata Book Fair anyway. To put it another way everyone's a winner. Except booklovers.