Alan Gibbons introduced the Libraries Change Lives awards ceremony on Wednesday 13 July with a passionate speech for the value of libraries. He learnt to read thanks to Gladstonian liberalism, the socialist and trade union movement, and the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, introduced by a Tory government. However, Gibbons argues, the political class has now forgotten the importance of libraries. As South Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world, opens 180 new public libraries, local authorities around the United Kingdom are closing over 400. A child who reads is a successful child. In a world driven by information, the child who can’t read can’t access the print or the digital worlds.
For this reason Alan started Campaign for the Book, and helped to co-ordinate Save Libraries Day on 5th February 2011. 110 simultaneous demonstrations were held around the country; at one small library in the Cotswolds, with a capacity of 30, seven hundred people were in attendance .
Libraries have never been in such danger, yet never talked about so much. There is a disparity between what librarians do and what they are often perceived as doing. Librarians are not shelf-stackers, said Gibbons, they should tell the world what they do. If we allow libraries to close, they will be impossible to rebuild. We must go out and tell the people who are not yet convinced of the value of libraries about why they are so important, he concluded.
From a shortlist of three, the winner was Kent County Council’s ‘Making the Difference’, an innovative project which welcomes adults with learning disabilities into libraries. Alan commented, “libraries and librarians provide gateways to learning for all members of our communities; access to information, narratives and self empowerment regardless of their personal circumstances, income or background. I congratulate Kent County Council, and salute all such innovative projects. In difficult times such as these, the role of library and information professionals can’t be overestimated.”
At the end of the ceremony, he was given honorary fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), the organisers of the event. Congratulations, Alan, from Voices for the Library. This recognition of your tireless advocacy is well deserved.