Friday, March 16
Speaking Up For Libraries
Much of the time this blog deals with the light-hearted trivial details of my explorations, whether this be catching buses, visiting pubs, drinking beer or taking photos, so forgive me today when I adopt a more serious tone...
Libraries are an important part of my life. Not only do I currently work in a library, but I have a longstanding affection for such facilities that stretches back from childhood visits to my local Low Hill, Collingwood and Oxley branches in Wolverhampton. Libraries are also an integral part of the life of the nation, one of the foundations that makes up the very fabric of a community. From the cradle to the grave they are there, serving everyone from babies learning to read, to the jobseeker looking for work, to the student researching their dissertation to the housebound elderly person receiving books and information delivered to their doorstep. They are crucial, and yet they are often overlooked in terms of social necessity. As informal centres of leisure and learning, people can just walk in and discover new hobbies, new worlds, new skills, new friends. Libraries change lives, and yet across the country, libraries are under threat.
In response to this, the Speak Up For Libraries coalition of organisations and campaigners are working to protect libraries and their staff, now and in the future. A day of action was organised for Tuesday 13th March whereby Stephen and I attended the rally and lobby events at Westminster. It was hugely important to us that we demonstrated our support for the library service both nationally and locally.
The rally was held in the Methodist Central Hall and featured high profile speakers explaining just how vitally important libraries are. Amongst those who spoke were Dave Prentis (UNISON General Secretary), John Dolan (CILIP), Dan Jarvis (MP for Barnsley Central and Shadow Culture Minister), authors Alan Gibbons, Kate Mosse and Philip Ardagh, along with Ruth Bond from the Women’s Institute, Ian Anstice (librarian and author of the Public Libraries News blog) and representatives of library campaigns in Shropshire and Croydon.
The speeches were all very thought-provoking in setting out the risks to the library service nationally and explaining why the service needs to be supported. A couple of case study films emphasised the incredibly valuable work that can be achieved, highlighting that libraries are far more than just shelves of books. A recurring complaint was that the Government had failed to act to protect services, hence the assertion that Culture Minster Ed Vaizey was the library equivalent of Dr Beeching and the short-sighted railway destruction of the 1960s. Everyone acknowledged that the economic climate meant that tough decisions needed to be made, but there was a real fear that libraries could be irrepairably damaged if seen as an easy target for savings, undermining all the hard work and efforts of our forefathers in establishing the services in the first place.
Stephen and I then took the opportunity to lobby Parliament by attending a meeting with Emma Reynolds, the MP for Wolverhampton North East, who had kindly arranged to see us. We put forward a firm case for why libraries were important locally, particularly for the deprived areas of the constituency, and discussed the wider national context of cutbacks and closures. Emma was very gracious in listening to our arguments and we now wait to see what develops in terms of specific proposals for the future of libraries in Wolverhampton.
On a wider note once again, we do have to be realistic. Library services of course cannot be immune from providing their fair share of economies in austere times when many elements of local authority provision are having to grapple for funding. It is important though that libraries aren't just dismissed as an irrelevance or handed disproportionate cutbacks that threaten their very survival. I sincerely hope that the Speak Up For Libraries campaign achieves its aim of safeguarding services and raising the profile of the wonderful job libraries and their staff are doing all over the country. I for one was very proud to take part on Tuesday, and I would encourage anyone reading this blog to visit their local library and take advantage of all of the opportunities that will be on offer.