Author Archives: Voices for the Library

Words Fail Me – Trish’s story

Image c/o Kyle Emmerson on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

At this moment local authority services have not yet all been lost – but the plans for the savage further cuts required to achieve balanced budgets up to 2020 are already in place*. So it seems a timely moment to publicise what is happening.

As a mature student on Hereford College of Art Portfolio course I decided make a piece in response to ongoing government cuts, originally responding to the loss of social capital as voluntary groups shut due to loss of public funding. I find it sad that these organisations are often not publicly mourned in the way that we mark the loss of individuals – though we are all the poorer for their going.

It proved difficult to get time to work with the overstretched staff in the voluntary sector so I decided to focus on the impact of cuts to the arts instead – another area where social capital is being rapidly eroded. I was surprised to find very few explicit artistic responses to the current cuts in arts funding in the UK – all the cuts stories are illustrated with artists at work. This vacuum seems strange as it seems inevitable that many jobs and valued institutions in the arts will be lost as these cuts continue.

The idea for a satirical film came as a way to get across the ridiculousness and short sightedness of the cuts process and what is lost when apparently innocuous amounts are repeatedly removed from a service’s budgets. I hope the comedy of the story will also spark questions in people’s minds about what is happening and how they might respond.

I have long wondered whether it is best to light a candle of curse the darkness or, put another way, whether to focus on uncovering the negative so it can be resisted or looking ahead to possible positive ways forward. At this time, despite my natural optimism, it seems apt to focus on the ravages council cuts are inflicting on provision of local services. The public seems to have little awareness or understanding of the richness and contribution to local well being that council services and grants have provided until it impacts on them directly, though sadly at this point it is usually too late to respond effectively.

I worked in local government for 20 years so my considerable knowledge of what the sector offers and the challenges faced motivates me. I am especially keen that people understand the vital role of trained staff in running a sustainable service as more volunteers become part of the mix. Sadly local authority staff are often not in a position to speak out about what is happening, so they need allies outside the council in order to show what is happening and struggle together to find creative ways forward.

It would be ironic if the result of making this film were to focus attention just on libraries – the wider point of the work is to show that as one among many valuable services that are in the process of being lost. More works on the same theme are needed! I’ve found the process of making my first film with a zero budget in well under 2 months challenging and absorbing. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Trish Marsh, June 2016

* ‘Savings’ are laid out in Council Medium Term Financial Statements

The younger generation will miss out – Smita’s Story

I feel very sad to learn that our local library, Enfield’s Ridge Avenue Library is to be run by volunteers. I have been going to the library since my daughter was born 25 years ago. We used to attend story time and during the summer holidays both my children would do the readathon challenge. We knew the librarians and one of them who knew my daughter from a very young age still keeps in contact with her on Facebook.

The librarians had so much knowledge and would direct you to the right place to find the book you wanted whether it be for a school project or for leisure. In the Borough of Enfield, I was told only very few are still being run by Librarians and slowly they too will be run by volunteers.

I regularly attended the Library in Enfield Town during my student days and remember how helpful all the staff were in helping you find the book or reference.

I am preparing for a presentation and have recently joined the British Library, the second largest library in the world. I have been amazed with all the help that the Librarians have given to me and reminds me of the same help I received from my local library during my school days. It is a shame that the young generation will be missing out on all the knowledge that Librarians have to impart.

If you have a story to share about your local public library, or about how your local librarians have helped you, please contact us at and we’ll be happy to share your perspectives on our library service.

Speak Up For Libraries – crisis or opportunity?

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.

Celebrate your library on National Libraries Day

PrintThis Saturday is the fifth National Libraries Day. As ever, this provides us all with an opportunity to celebrate our public library service, a much appreciated public service that continues to attract millions every year. They may be children seeking out more books to devour as they develop their literacy skills, toddlers taking their first steps to develop their language skills, the unemployed using library computers to get online and seek employment, the elderly seeking to take their first steps on the internet or teenagers experiencing their first gig (no really!). Libraries are there for anyone and everyone. National Libraries Day is the perfect opportunity for all of us to show what they mean to our families and our communities.

Of course, National Libraries Day is about celebration, but it’s also about sending a strong message to local authorities and the national government that we will not tolerate a further assault on our public library service. As local authorities such as Swindon seek to wash their hands of 14 out of their 15 libraries, now is a perfect opportunity to put the spotlight on our library service and hold our politicians (both local and national) to account. Whilst we must shine a light on the cuts our local authorities are making, we must also acknowledge the lack of leadership from central government, coupled with the reduction in funding that they have passed down to councils across the country. It is not enough to point at the council and argue against their programme of cuts and closures, it is essential to follow the money to central government and hold ministers to account for the continual decline of a library service that millions rely on.

So, go out there and join us in celebrating our public library service. Share your photos on social media using #librariesday, tell the world what you are doing on National Libraries Day. Tell your friends, your neighbours, your family to go down to their local public library and discover what it has to offer. Then, when the day draws to a close, write to your council, write to your local newspaper, write to Ed Vaziey, use the Freedom of Information Act to expose how your councils and central government are taking their back on your public library service. Don’t stop writing and enquiring and challenging. Start a campaign group. Start a friends group. Speak up for your libraries. Because they belong to you. They belong to all of us, and we must never let them forget it.

Happy National Libraries Day from all of us at Voices for the Library.

Karen’s Story

I remember fondly my experiences of studying at Liverpool Central Libraries in 1985/86. My friend and I would go a couple of evenings a week to revise for our ‘O’ levels. We both didn’t have much space at home so this was a perfect refuge to escape to and imagine our ‘glittering’ futures. The Picton and the International library were my favourite spaces. I visited recently and was disappointed that it had moved on with the times in terms of the number of computer terminals which I know is inevitable. My love of books has never dimmed and I love the presence of the Portico and the National Art Library at the V & A which still provide a refuge from modern life.

Julie, Katie, Shona, Kim & Yong’s stories

Julie remembers going to the library before she got the internet at home as a teenager – she used the public library for quick internet access. She had four siblings so it was often easier to go to the public library there.

Shona’s friend had a brand new baby and she was surprised to find she could join the library as a newborn and borrow pictures books for long periods of time.

Kim’s Mum borrowed a computer book from the library and took it home and fixed her own computer.

Katie used the public library to practice her driving theory tests – you could log in with your library number and practice for free at home. It saved her buying the DVDs and the tests changed every time you went on. She passed and it didn’t cost her a penny!

Yong  – A library for relaxed social place. I learned how to use computers from my local library and also enjoyed meeting friends in the libraries for ideas and still do.

Gemma’s story

I used to visit my local library often when I was a kid, where I took out everything I could: non fiction (particularly on Ancient Eygpt); DVDs; and stacks of children’s and pre-teen fiction.

After I joined highschool, I stopped using my local library as my highschool had it’s own well stocked library. I became part of the bookclub there, along with my friends, so it made more sense to use the resources there.

At the end of highschool, I did complete a week of work experience at my local library which I really enjoyed and has obviously been influential later in life. I enjoyed interacting with the patrons: elderly ladies coming in for the Mills and Boon; school children who came in to use the computers after school; younger kids who came in for storytime; visiting schools to drop off books for them.

Callum’s story

I once helped a technology illiterate old man who had tried at another library to get some pictures printed from on his phone regarding extensive damage on his car to send to his insurance company. It turned out he just needed to upload the pictures on to the computer to print rather than print directly from a picture opened from the phone. Libraries can act as a source of information about digital literacy to people who have little to no experience in it, especially the older generation. Many libraries provide some kind of service relating to IT literacy, such as computer classes, but with the increasing dependence on information technology becoming apparent, less and less professionals are being employed, and instead many public libraries are depending on volunteers, that may or may not be digitally literate themselves.

Stephen’s Story

I continue to use the public library I visited as a child. Every week I looked forward to visiting my library in Liverpool. I had a favourite place where I would go to read novels about other worlds, brilliant characters, as well as delving into books on historic people and far off places. I would happily get lost in the books, but when I looked up from them, my favourite view was towards the theatre, where I was keen to see what the next pantomime would be at Christmas. I would also notice the interesting real life characters from all walks of life who were using the library. Since then, many of the subjects I enjoyed reading about, continue to interest and inspire me. When I return to my library now, although it has changed physically, I find that it remains as interesting as ever, with a constant stream of interesting characters coming through its bright new entrance. It still feels like a warm welcoming place, and while I am there, I still experience some of the interest and curiosity which I first experienced when I was a little younger!

Portobello Library and Why I’m Glad It’s here

There were a group of us waiting for the library to open one weekday maybe a month ago. There was a slight drizzle in the air and we were a huddle under the front awnings; myself, an elderly couple and a young father with his pre-teen son.

Another chap came across the road to join us, rather posh English accent and he regaled us with “What a great sight to see; folk queuing to get into the library. There’s hope for us all yet!”

We returned his beaming smile and understood, I think, what he meant.

On returning from self-imposed and work-related exile in England a few years back, almost the first place I sought out was the library in this wee Lothian sea-side town.

I did this due to some deep social instinct which I find difficult to explain. You either believe in communities or you don’t. I guess I wanted to ‘take the measure’ of this little town that was to become my home.

I knew a little about its social demography. There’s slightly poorer folk living on one side of it than there is down the other (one end has a boating and kayak club, the other a Wimpy and an amusement arcade). There are twee little shops on the high street which would stretch the average JSA payment to its very limit and café’s that offer more organic plum chutney and feta than a roll and square sausage (and not a notion of brown sauce anywhere).

The pubs are the same. Some you’d go for the karaoke, others you can take your dog and your children in and chat about portfolios or graphic design over a quirky jam-jar of Shiraz.

But, libraries don’t work in this way and neither should they, but there’s a danger that they will if doomed to be volunteer run. Libraries should be as they are – ‘classless’. I can just as much go into Portobello Library and borrow a DVD of Luis Bunuel’s ‘Belle de jour’ as I can ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or a Take That CD.

There are lads and lassies from the local school over by the computer games who spraff in broad Lothian accents. There’s a couple of mornings when the cheery librarian fella will lead the wee sons and daughters of the maybe-more-well-to-do in song and laughter in the ‘book-bug sessions’. There are auld yins sitting at the tables at the back who meet every week maybe for a purpose maybe not. There are Eastern Europeans crowded around the computers maybe conversing on-line with those left back home. There are writer’s group’s and art groups.

The staff are friendly, helpful and have plenty of information to hand. They seem of the community and have plenty of local knowledge. They are paid to be local servants of this wee town, whosoever walks through the doors.

‘Volunteerism’ not only does away with a vital profession, for no better reason than it’s an easy target to cut, it threatens the very ‘egalitarianism’ that is so precious in a community such as this. ‘Volunteerism’ will make libraries like Victorian charities. The middle-classes will feel compelled to step in and run things and, like the sea-front cafes and bars, it’ll be by themselves and for themselves, no matter how well-meaning they may see themselves to be.