Today saw library public library supporters and workers participate in a rally and lobby of Parliament. During the rally, Voices for the Library member Alan Wylie delivered this powerful speech and highlighted important issues about the future of our public libraries.
I’m going to start by posing a question
Is the current situation facing libraries a crisis or an opportunity?
I suppose the answer depends on who you are.
If your library has been cut or closed then it’s a crisis
If you’re isolated, vulnerable, elderly and or disabled and your housebound or mobile service has been cut then it’s a crisis
If you’re a job-seeker and there are no trained staff to help you with Universal Jobmatch and you risk being sanctioned then it’s a crisis
If you’re poor with young kids and your local library now charges for Under 5’s and Babybounce sessions then it’s a crisis
If you’re a young person and can no longer access the new staffless library then it’s a crisis.
If you’re a library worker whose health is suffering due to stress and short-staffing or you’ve been made redundant then it’s a crisis
On the other hand if you’re Ed Vaizey, the government, a ‘transformation’ consultant or a privatiser then it’s one big opportunity!
An opportunity to commercialise
An opportunity to privatise
An opportunity to attack local communities and the public services they rely on
An opportunity to attack the right to:
Community empowerment, resilience and democratic involvement
An opportunity to undermine and erode the public library ethos.
Naomi Klein, the American writer, thinker and activist, in a speech she gave in 2003 to a bunch of North American librarians, said that library workers uphold certain key values and of these is;
“Public Space as opposed to commercial and private space)”
NOT commercial or private but PUBLIC; this value, this belief is crucial if libraries are to remain safe, trusted, inclusive, accountable and democratic public spaces.
Recently the Society of Chief Librarians launched a partnership with Halifax Bank to put 2000 of its ‘Digital Champions’ in libraries, this is the same Halifax Bank that was involved in a major data privacy breech.
While the UK library establishment invites banks into libraries in, the US Alison Macrina and the Library Freedom Project are teaching library staff how to teach library users to be safe and private online. We on this side of the Atlantic seem to be going backwards.
It doesn’t help matters that the Chair of the National Libraries Taskforce, on which the SCL sits, is an outsourcer who has failed to bring users, front-line staff, campaigners, LIS academics and unions on board. I wonder why?
We need to be very clear that we don’t want or need Halifax, Barclays, BT, Amazon or Google in libraries.
We don’t want our public library space invaded by commercial interests.
We don’t want our libraries run by blacklisters.
We don’t want our libraries run by suspect Social Enterprises.
We don’t want our libraries run by mock mutuals or trusts you can’t trust.
We don’t want our libraries run by a sub-section of the community with a gun to their head.
We want and we need local libraries funded and managed by councils and run by paid and trained staff in consultation with and for the benefit of all.
This is not negotiable.
We therefore demand that the government;
Cease its attack on public services
Enforces the law relating to libraries
Acknowledges that libraries are important and crucial to people
and gives libraries a long-term future
So when you lobby your MP later be sure to make it clear that it’s not just the bricks and mortar of the library building and the skin and bones of the library worker you’re fighting for it’s also the heart and soul of the service, the ethos.
Because without this to ground us we’re cast adrift, sunk.
I’ll end with another Naomi Klein quote;
“The best way to stay public is to be public – truly, defiantly, radically public”
Thank you to everyone who attended the rally and lobbied their MP today. Raising the profile of public libraries in this way, and highlighting the critical situation they are in, serves to keep libraries in the minds of the politicians.