I’m going to start by posing a questionIs 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 crisisIf you’re isolated, vulnerable, elderly and or disabled and your housebound or mobile service has been cut then it’s a crisisIf 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 crisisIf you’re poor with young kids and your local library now charges for Under 5’s and Babybounce sessions then it’s a crisisIf 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 crisisOn 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 commercialiseAn opportunity to privatiseAn opportunity to attack local communities and the public services they rely onAn opportunity to attack the right to:readingknowledgeInformationCommunity empowerment, resilience and democratic involvementAn 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 servicesEnforces the law relating to librariesAcknowledges that libraries are important and crucial to peopleand gives libraries a long-term futureSo 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”
Voices for the Library representatives will be joining other members of the Speak Up For Libraries coalition at the lobby of Parliament for libraries on 9th February 2016 at Central Hall Westminster.
This lobby of Parliament is open for all to attend, whether you are a library user, library campaigner, or a library worker – anyone who supports public libraries.
Full details of the lobby can be found on the Speak Up For Libraries site, along with details of how you can book a free place.
Join us, and show your support for public libraries on 9th February.
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.
An important Parliamentary lobby and rally organised by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition will take place on 13th March 2012.
The rally will take place from 11.30am at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. The lobby of Parliament will start at 2.30pm.
We urge everyone to find out more and sign up to attend via the Speak Up For Libraries website.
Speak Up For Libraries are a coalition of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff, now and in the future.
Voices for the Library are delighted by the news that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport will be holding an inquiry into library closures. Such a move, due to the unprecedented cuts in library services throughout the country and the inaction of the relevant ministers, is timely. For too long have library users been told that the DCMS is keeping a watching brief and they will act when necessary, only for no action to be taken. We fervently hope that the committee will take into account the views so strongly held by library users and campaigners that public libraries are an essential part of community life and democratic societies, provide a highly valuable social service and are essential for the improvement of literacy.
The committee is inviting written submissions and requesting views on what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century, the extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964, the impact library closures have on local communities and the effectiveness of the secretary of state’s powers of intervention under the 1964 Act. Voices for the Library will be submitting evidence to the committee and is happy to provide information to anyone else who wishes to do so. We urge local campaign groups to make their own statements, clearly expressing the impact that library cuts and closures will have on individuals and communities.
Alan Gibbons’ Campaign for the Book has called for a moratorium on all closures, saying:
The Campaign for the Book welcomes the decision by the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport to announce an inquiry into library closures. We believe that it is incumbent upon the DCMS, in line with its duties to superintend the public library service, to order a moratorium on library closures.
Even as we write Doncaster is planning swingeing closures. This kind of strategic decision is completely at variance with the conclusions of the Charteris report that prevented a similar closure programme in Wirral in 2009 and the recent Gloucestershire and Somerset legal decision.
The decision of the Select Committee follows in the wake of the High Court decision halting library closures in Gloucestershire and Somerset. Gloucestershire County Council at the time claimed that this it had been ‘tripped up on a small technical point.’ In fact, the judge said that: “the decisions under challenge were not just unlawful but bad government.” He ordered the total quashing of the library plans and told the library to completely revise its plans. The judge said the council’s behaviour was a: “substantive error of law” and a: “substantial breach.”
We stand at a crossroads. Will the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport give clear leadership in ensuring the health and vitality of the public library service or will the effective dismantling of much of its branch network continue?
It is time to act to save our ‘comprehensive’ and ‘efficient’ service.
Voices for the Library support this request and believe that local authorities should not implement reductions to services during a period of major investigation into the detrimental impact of cuts to library services.
Call for Contributions
We need your help in order to draft an effective response to the inquiry by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport into library closures. We are looking for evidence that planned closures have had an impact on your library service as per the Public Library And Museums Act 1964.
- Have library cuts and closures affected your community?
- Have they had an effect on staffing, opening hours, services provided, IT provisions and/or book/DVD/CD/printed music etc. selection?
- Have you set up or joined a Friends group in response?
Please make sure your evidence gets to us by 20th December.