In its latest bid to kick-start the nation’s ailing economy, the government has announced that public libraries will extend their current range of services to include the lending of money. From today, customers borrowing books will also be able to take out financial loans for a period of three weeks, though it may be possible to renew the terms of these agreements provided no other customer is waiting to borrow the cash.
‘After many years experience of lending books to the reading public, the nation’s libraries are ideally positioned to move into the competitive financial sector,’ said Alistair Darling. ‘Just one look at their modern dynamic workforce and state-of-the-art equipment should reassure even the most hardened sceptic that their proven track record in bookkeeping will make this scheme a resounding success.’
Gearing up for the libraries’ new role has been a big operation. Library desks are now stocked with large leather briefcases, or ‘bags for life’, to assist customers carrying off loans in the ‘hefty to whopping’ range. In addition, books of outsize cheques, previously only accepted as legal tender at charity fundraising events, have been ordered in for the large print sections, while reference libraries have been expanding their coin collections for the benefit of customers with particularly poor credit ratings. It has also been confirmed that Securicor has been awarded the contract for a new fleet of mobile libraries.
Tight financial control will limit borrowers to no more than six loans at a time on a single library card, enforced by a zero-tolerance culture which will see any failure to return a loan by the date stamped on the cash result in harsh penalties of 5p a day up to a limit of GBP5. Persistent breaches of loan conditions will lead to customers being fixed with a chastening stare by the beady-eyed old lady on the checkout desk.
However, some critics have questioned the credentials of the public libraries to operate such a scheme. A number of branches needed massive government bailouts after announcements of enormous hikes in gas prices saw a pre-winter run on Jeffrey Archer novels. Concerns have also been raised about offering children 500% mortgages with their ‘Horrid Henry’ books, but libraries say they are prepared to accept small regular repayments from children’s pocket money to avoid them getting into financial difficulties.
The government also used the launch of the lending scheme at Watford Public Library to explain fully how it was going to get out of the current financial mess. Unfortunately Alistair Darling’s whisper could not be heard and every time a journalist asked a difficult question, government advisors around the library said ‘Shhh!’