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Following his election as Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron was grilled by the media about his beliefs as an evangelical Christian. Has the focus on faith, which began with Tony Blair, reached the point where it is harder than ever to hold religious beliefs and play an active role in political life?
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The Diocese of Lancaster is to close an historic library in Preston that houses one of the largest collections of Catholic books, pamphlets and photographs in the north west. The Bishop of Lancaster, Michael Campbell, said that the Talbot Library would close at the end of the year because the diocese could no longer afford to run it.
Founded in 1992 by then Bishop of Lancaster, John Brewer, the library holds 60, 000 books as well as prayer cards, parish histories and photographs of the Diocese, its people and priests. In a statement the Diocese said that the imminent retirement of librarian Deacon Michael Dolan and ever-increasing running costs prompted the closure. But users have called the library “a jewel of English history” and urged the Diocese to start a charity to save its collection.
Volunteer librarian and historian Margaret Pannikar said the closure was “a great sadness to all concerned.” Bishop Campbell acknowledged the sadness of the “few specialists” that used the reading library, but said its future had been in question for years. “The Trustees of the Diocese have to consider the interests of the entire Diocese and so act now,” he said. “Besides, the Library was becoming very big but had very little usage. The heating costs alone were of great concern.”
Diocesan Trustees recommended that the library be closed following a consultation. Ms Pannikar said that the collection was popular with students from universities in Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester and that the diocesan consultation had overlooked users and volunteers. “I don’t think they’ve spoken to any users, to be quite honest,” she said.
A spokesman for the Diocese said that the consultation had been extensive. It said that books belonging to the Diocese would be kept, but that the fate of loaned material would be negotiated with its original owners. The library building will be returned to its parish and a smaller archival centre is to replace it. Ms Pannikar said that the library’s supporters hoped to start a charity to save the collection, but said that the diocese had rejected this idea. “I think the way ahead is to form an independent charity under the auspices of the bishop. I cannot understand why that would not be possible,” she said.
The Abbott of Douai Abbey, Fr Geoffrey Scott, who is President of the Catholic Archives Society and has used the library for research, said that it would be a pity to lose such a large collection of material about popular Catholicism. “There’s nothing of its type until you get to Liverpool. A valuable resource is being dispersed – and when a library is dispersed you can’t get it back,” he said. Among the collection is a book by GK Chesterton annotated by Fr O’Connor, who received him into the Church and upon whom the popular detective, Fr Brown, was based.