The release of the Sieghart report the day before the Christmas recess speaks volumes about how this government views the public library system. It is viewed by ministers as an irrelevance, as a service that provides no ‘value’ (mainly because it is not income generating). Of course, to the millions of people who rely on their public library service, they provide a valuable and highly treasured public service.
For the children needing extra support developing their literacy skills, libraries help them, to realise their potential and give them hope of a better future.
For the elderly who find themselves lacking the skills and ability to get online, libraries help them connect with their families and learn valuable new skills.
For the unemployed, demonised by the government and told to “get a job” using online services they often do not have access to, they offer the glimmer of hope that they can get a job that offers them dignity and security.
For society in general, they offer a space that is free from commercial influence. A space where they can escape from the constant pressure to buy buy buy. They can relax secure in the knowledge that the space is theirs, not that of a private company that sees them as pound signs walking through the door rather than citizens.
And yet, the future is bleak. Under the current government we have seen the rapid decline of our library service. And there is worse to come. A government who argues that everyone should have the opportunity to get on in life is pulling the ladder away from those who need it most. What hope to join the ranks of hard-working families if the mechanisms to get you there are no longer available?
What is clear is that a Conservative government in the next parliament would be a disaster for the public library service. With cuts returning spending to 1930s levels, local authorities will be under even greater pressure, resulting in services being outsourced or abandoned altogether. It is clear that the government either do not care, or view this as part of their long-term strategy. The release of this report now demonstrates how little they care about what happens to our public library network.
It is up to all of us, librarians and library workers, library users, professional bodies, trade unions, writers, to keep the pressure up on our elected officials. We understand the difference library services make. We understand how they provide opportunities for those cast adrift. We understand that for the isolated, the left behind and the cast aside, public libraries provide the chance to help them grasp the opportunities that so many of us take for granted. We understand that our cultural life is much diminished with a weakened public library network. We understand that they do have value. We need to remind our elected representatives of this every single day. We must not let them get away with the ultimate destruction of a valuable and cherished public service that levels the playing field and enables opportunity for all.