Leading Catholics have expressed their sadness at the announcement today (17 December) by the Diocese of Lancaster, of the imminent closure of the Talbot Library in Preston on 31 December. A collection of some 60,000 books, some dating back to the 18th century, the library was only founded by Bishop John Brewer in 1992 and there had been hopes that it would one day become a Catholic Cultural Centre for the North of England.
In a press release the Diocese said: 'With the imminent retirement of Deacon Michael Dolan, Librarian of the Talbot Library, Preston, relatively few users and increasing costs, the Trustees of the Diocese of Lancaster have made the unanimous decision that the Talbot Library will finally close its doors on 31 December 2013. The Library was opened in 1992 for reference and research for students, at the initiative of the late Bishop John Brewer and Canon Robbie Canavan.
'The decision has been made following a fulsome review of the Library’s future sustainability by the Diocesan Trustees in recent months. Consequently, the property itself will eventually revert back to the Parish of St Walburge, and those collections of significance, on loan to the Library but notably not belonging to the Diocese, will be the subject of proper negotiation with their owners. Those who have donated books to the Library and wish to reclaim these are invited to apply to do so through writing to the Diocesan Trustees. Archival material strictly belonging to the Diocese will be retained.
'The Bishop of Lancaster and Chair of the Diocesan Trustees, Rt Rev Michael Campbell commented: “For those few specialists who used the Talbot Library there will be inevitable sadness at this decision. However, there have been concerns among priests and people for some years about the future of the Library. The Trustees of the Diocese have to consider the interests of the entire Diocese and so act now.”
'The Bishop concluded: “Very few would give of their time (pro bono) to oversee the Library in the way that Deacon Dolan has done – in such a wholehearted manner. Besides, the Library was becoming very big but had very little usage. The heating costs alone were of great concern.”
'The Diocesan Trustees have subsequently decided to establish a new and much smaller archival centre – but strictly for archival/historical material for the Diocese of Lancaster.'
The press release concludes: 'there will be no further diocesan statement issued on this matter.'
Fr Robert Billing, spokesman for Diocese agreed that there had not been a public consultation over the closure. In July a group of local academics and historians wrote a proposal for the library, but Fr Billing said "their ideas were not viable". He rejected the idea of appealing for more volunteers or looking at the possibility of handing the library over to a trust - or organisation like the Chesterton Society.
Lord Alton has voiced his concern over the break up of the collection which had been continuously growing. He said that only last week a book belonging to Lord Francis Petre, Vicar Apostolic in the mid eighteenth century arrived. "I have also seen one by Chesterton, from the early twentieth century, annotated by Fr John O'Connor, the priest who had received him into the Church (earlier that week) and on whom Fr Brown is based."
Margaret Pannikar a Lancashire Catholic historian who works at the library said she was hoping to set up a small charitable trust to try and save the Talbot Library. She said there was a small but constant stream of visitors, and a team of volunteers happy to continue working there. The closure presents problems for new collections that will continue to be left to the library in legacies, she added.
Lord Alton said: "This is all so very short-sighted and displays a complete loss of any sense of mission or outreach. The library, church and buildings are brilliantly situated (public transport, heart of Preston, adjacent to the university) and would make a perfect Catholic Cultural Centre for the north of England. It just requires some zeal, imagination and resources. 60,000 books of Catholic interest, lovingly cared for by a succession of lay people, should not just be sold off without people like Margaret Pannikar being given a chance to come up with an alternative."
Professor Keith Hanley, a trustee with the Catholic National Library said he accepted the Bishop's decision, but said: "This is a tragedy not just for the diocese but for national Catholic culture. Its taken Catholics in this country some time to gather our intellectual heritage. The kind of consultation that could have taken place might have saved this collection for further generations."
For more information on the Talbot Library, see: www.talbotlibrary.co.uk/index.html