Author Archives: VftL team

why i love libraries … in 153 words or less – poem by Richard Pierce

why i love libraries … in 153 words or less
(based on my original poem why I love poetry … in 153 words or less)

because words bound and wrapped
on pages of many colours
sing new voices

because one borrowed book
can be better than thousands
of bought ones

because reading beats hearing
when the words make
their own meaning inside me

because small words can change big things

because the wind and the rain
and love and hate and fear
and tragedy and joy

because the world outside
is so huge and round

because inside each story
there is true greatness
and great truth

because words are the warmth of life

because these sanctuaries
are gateways to the gods
our one chance at wisdom

because faith is a promise
regardless of belief

because each book is
a life-time on its own
a summary of all we can

Richard Pierce

Richard Pierce was born in Doncaster in 1960, and lived in Germany for 11 years to 1974. Educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, he is administrator and trustee for three grant-making charities. His debut novel Dead Men will be published by a major UK publisher in 2012. He is married, has four children, a cat, a Triumph Spitfire, a collection of epees, and thousands of books he’s still trying to find space for (in addition to all the books he borrows from Stradbroke Library). His web site is, and can be found on twitter as @tettig. Richard’s story for VftL can be found here

‘Prime services of civilisation in an increasingly barbaric age’ – Richard’s story

We measure civilisations by what survives of them.

Richard Pierce

Richard Pierce

After the Holocaust, after genocide, the acts of destruction and barbarism remembered most clearly, despised most deeply are book burnings. In our collective memory they are inextricably linked with intolerance, persecution and massacre.

At the age of fourteen, I moved back to England after having lived in Germany for eleven years and was placed in all the bottom sets at my new school because I spoke strangely, because I exhibited none of the arts of social interaction my school mates had acquired. But I wanted to be educated. I had read Homer and Swift in German – why couldn’t I be allowed to use that knowledge now?

I was desperate to learn French, to be the best in French. So, every day, after school, I went to Doncaster Central Library, took the previous day’s copy of Le Monde from its shelf, sat down at a large, rectangular, melamine-topped table and read. On Day One, I understood less than a third of what I read; by the end of the year, I understood most of it (and fell in love into the bargain, with a girl whose name I never found out, who visited the library every day, too). I went on to study German, French and Linguistics at the University of Cambridge, and to spend time in one of the greatest libraries in the world, the University Library.

When, in 2006, we moved from Norway into this tiny village of Stradbroke in Suffolk, we were immensely grateful for the service provided by the library here, to help our children (and us) to become reacquainted with the English language. We are heavy users of our library, one of many libraries threatened with closure by Suffolk County Council. Much of the research for Dead Men, my debut novel to be published in 2012, would have been impossible without the support of the professionals running Stradbroke Library,

We all have the right to educate ourselves. The government has a statutory obligation to allow us to educate ourselves through the provision of a public libraries service. To devise a strategy which forces local councils to close library services is an abdication of responsibility and common sense, and a malicious attack on our rights as individuals, fuelled, to no small extent I surmise, by high-Tory squirism and the desire to suppress the development and free speech of individuals critical of the status quo.

I support the Voices for the Library campaign, because public libraries, especially rural ones, are the only way for many people to access knowledge, to access the Internet to inform themselves, to apply for jobs, to be a part of the world outside; the only way for older people to get hold of affordable, large print books, and to continue to be enveloped by human warmth and friendships they may not find at home, and, in turn, to keep their minds and bodies active for longer without having to find refuge in the (also underfunded) NHS. They are prime services of civilisation in an increasingly barbaric age.

Richard Pierce was born in Doncaster in 1960, and lived in Germany for 11 years to 1974. Educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, he is administrator and trustee for three grant-making charities. His debut novel Dead Men will be published by a major UK publisher in 2012. He is married, has four children, a cat, a Triumph Spitfire, a collection of epees, and thousands of books he’s still trying to find space for (in addition to all the books he borrows from Stradbroke Library). His web site is, and can be found on twitter as @tettig.

Libraries and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes

One of the resolutions to be presented at National Federation of Women’s Institutes AGM in Liverpool on 8th June is in support of the public library service, urging “H.M. Government to maintain support for libraries, as an essential local education and information resource”. Voices for the Library have been kindly invited to attend, and CILIP CEO Annie Mauger will be addressing the meeting.

We’d like to take the opportunity to thank all the librarians, library users and members of professional bodies who have spent so much time giving information to the WI, especially to those who have attended local WI meetings and given talks at resolution conferences around the country. With 210,000 members, the NFWI is an influential lobbying force and we really hope that the resolution is passed in order for the NFWI to continue to support this important cause.

Isle of Wight libraries need your help: press release

Press release from Friends of the Isle of Wight Library Service (18 May 11).  If you have any questions about donating, please contact David Quigley  Donation methods include PayPal and cheque.

Friends and users of Isle of Wight libraries – we need your help!


A courageous and committed user of Brighstone library has instructed solicitors to challenge the decision taken by the Isle of Wight Council to close her library, along with many others on the island. She is fighting, on all our behalves to try and stop the reduction of this important public service. And she needs your help.


She was in receipt of public funding from the Legal Services Commission (i.e. legal aid) in order to take her case. The prohibitively expensive costs of legal action means this is the only way she could afford to act.


Her lawyers have advised her that she has a strong claim and proceedings should be issued at the High Court as soon as possible. However, the Legal Services Commission has withdrawn its support. They are stating that the case has no real prospect of success and are refusing to allow her to lodge her application at the court. Her solicitors are currently appealing this decision.


The Legal Services Commission is also stating that funding will only be continued (assuming the appeal is successful) if the community contributes some money towards the costs of the case. We need to raise as much money as possible, so please help and please help as quickly as you can.


To make a donation, which can be from as little as £1 upwards, please contact:

Dave Quigley Friends of the IWLS          



send your donation direct to the solicitors, Leigh Day & Co Solicitors, Priory House, 18-25 St John’s Lane, London, EC1M 4LB marked for the attention of Shirley Bright.


Please help with this very worthy cause. Otherwise, the island will lose many of its libraries and the Council will be allowed to get away with its unlawful actions.


Thank you.


Costing public library use

I have previously blogged about the value of public libraries to me and my family. A few months ago we set up a new blog listing the books we borrow including their cost, Overdue Books. One of the reasons behind setting up this blog was to show the true cost of the books we borrow. A common argument against the need for public libraries is that books are cheap, why borrow when you can just buy. While some books are relatively cheap and while there is lots of material free online to read this doesn’t mean its the type of material I want to read or introduce my young children too. I am also in the fortunate postion to be able to afford to buy some books and have online access, however this is not the case for everyone.
Overdue Books is keeping a count of all the books we borrow from the library including costs where possible, a blog post ‘counting the cost’ has technical details on how this has been done. In under 2 years if we had bought all the books we borrowed from the library we would have spent an estimated £3400, this works out roughly as a book habit of £150 a month, definitely not something we could afford.
Our young son is the biggest user of the library in terms of number of books he borrow. I think having such a wealth and variety of books is a huge benefit in terms of his development, use of imagination, his language skills etc. Not something you can add a value to.
He is able to choose from, what I recognise, as a good and appropiate collection of material far superior to what you would find in many bookshops. While online bookstores have a much wider range of stock he is too young to successfully browse and select items also there would be the cost of purchase, which as I previoulsy mentioned would be too prohibitive .
I have been interested to see my son’s use of the library and acknowledge that it is much more than just borrowing books. He has learned a sense of community and sharing, knowing he needs to return the books so other people can have a chance to borrow them as well. The freedom to borrow any material without any consequences such as cost, means he can be adventurous in his reading, if he doesn’t like it he can just return it. The library also provides a safe environment where he meets other children and parents as well as the opportunity to take part in some of the activities run by the library.
The borough where we live, Warwickshire is currently running a 12 week consultation  from March 18  until June 9 as the council is planning budget cuts of approx 27% over the next 3 years to the library and information service. These cuts include the closure of a number of libraries. From completing the consultation document I was left a little unclear as to what impact the consultation will have considering it seems like the decision to close the libraries has already been made. The tone of the document made me think the purpose of the consultation was mainly to see if anyone else wanted to take over the running of these libraries. Personally I have concerns about community run libraries in terms of their sustainabilty to in maintaing standards.
It is really disheartening to see that many local authorities across the UK are looking to close libraries as part of their cost cutting measures. We recently had a new addition to the family and is already a member of our public library, I do hope for the sake of future generations we do not lose something as valuable as our public libraries as without them it would be a poorer society.



Library card

Damyanti Patel

Valuing Public Libraries

Birmingham Public Library

I attended a debate last year run jointly by the Birmingham Salon and CILIP West Midlands about‘What Libraries are for’. It was an interesting evening and I really enjoyed hearing peoples views on libraries, whether they should be a quiet sanctuary, hired space for communities, running vegetable contests, space to inspire learning etc.

It also got me thinking about what public libraries mean to me and in particular it’s the aspect of social inclusion that really appeals.

During the debate there were numerous mentions of ebooks and ebook readers & their impact on the library. Personally I am not sure how much of a driver this is to re-invent the library, while these are available they are still not accessible to everyone unlike a public library. I do use my phone for reading but that hasn’t replaced all my print books and I don’t imagine it will do for some time. Someone raised the point of ‘are libraries just a warehouse of books or a space to inspire learning’. As the book industry evolves and new technologies arise I think it offers libraries more opportunities to evolve services and continue to provide access to information.

Another  key point that was raised during the debate was the about the library being a service not a building. This made me wonder whether success is still being measured through footfall of the physical space as libraries continue widen access further and deliver services out to communities as well as providing the information to your desktop.

From a personal point of view I have always been a keen user of public libraries, they have & continue to provide me with information, resources, the space etc. As a child libraries gave me the opportunity to indulge in my love of reading which in turn led me to aspire to learn more, become educated, go to university, find a profession. Libraries helped me level the playing field providing me with the same opportunities as others.

Looking back I have been regularly using public libraries at least once a month over the last 20 years and really appreciate the chance to discover new authors, new recipes to try, indulge in my aspiration to be creative through numerous self help and guide books.  I have enjoyed seeing collections evolve, introduction of multi-media, e-resources, PCs, integration of local services etc. In many cases some have been more successful than others but I have always appreciated the efforts to keep the marvellous public service alive in times of clear under investment and resource.

I now have a little boy who we’ve taken to the library since he was a week old. While we are fortunate to be able to provide him with a collection of books at home, we could never match what is available in the library. Its great to see his evolving use of the library, from crawling to the box to throw books out to beginning to look through and choose himself and now even tentatively foray into the non-fiction. He loves having the choice to try things out, see if its interests him find out about what he likes and dislikes.

A key word that continues to keep coming back to me with public libraries is the opportunities they provide to help people fill their potential.

Damyanti Patel

Are volunteers happy to run libraries?

As time moves on for library consultations in the UK, many local authorities appear to be focusing on the fact that if communities don’t want their libraries closed then they must run them themselves. I know this situation has been discussed before, but the thing that strikes me about this stance is that:
  • Local authorities suggest that local communities on the whole are happy to do this.
  • It feels as if local authorities are using emotional blackmail against communities.
Here are a number of quotes taken from UK newspapers to illustrate the situation.

“For months, Richard Graham has been telling people that someone in Matson is certain to take over the running of the library from the county council,” he said.

“He has asked at least four local groups to my knowledge and all of them have said ‘no’ and are committed to fighting the library’s unjust closure which targets one of the poorest communities.”

This is Gloucestershire: Gloucester MP’s library claims dismissed as books nailed to a cross

“The issue of community libraries is an absolute misnomer. Some parts of the country are already trying this and it takes 50 to 60 volunteers plus management to run one. It can only work in an affluent area because you are relying on donations. There’s no way that somewhere like Rossington could support a community library.”

Doncaster Free Press: Mayor apologises as Doncaster’s Cabinet approves library cuts (4th Feb, 2011)

“As a community we have got to do something, otherwise we will lose the library and we absolutely have to keep it going,” said Mary Waller, a retired librarian and member of the newly formed Berkeley Community Library Committee BCLC.

“There are so many reasons for keeping a library open and no reason at all for closing one.

Gazette Series: Berkeley community set to take on threatened library (5th May, 2011)

“The council hoped to realise savings of £417,300 in the current financial year by “reconfiguring” the library service.

But a public outcry over plans to close 20 libraries if local groups fail to accept an offer of “community take over” has forced the council to hold a public consultation, which will not end until June 13.”

Daily Echo: County council given ‘red alert’ over failing projects (5th May, 2011)

“I don’t want to see libraries closed – I want them to continue to succeed. We know how important they are – and that’s why we’re working to make sure they stay open into the future. Like every council service, they need to play their part in making savings – but, with the support of communities, no library need close.

This is Gloucestershire: Mark Hawthorne: Library closures show how hard times are (16th Feb, 2011)

“The council are consulting but I think the final line is they will shut the library unless the community finds a way of taking it over. I do understand the county’s position but I think they haven’t really got a clear idea about where the funding and provision for this library is going to come from.”

Cambridge News: £36,000 to keep library safe (12th May, 2011)

“Great Missenden, Chalfont St Peter and Gerrards Cross are three of 14 libraries which will be run largely by volunteers as part of ‘county and community’ model.

If enough volunteers are not found to run these services they face closure.”

Buckinghamshire Advertiser: Chief calls on communities to save libraries (11th April, 2011)

Judging by the responses from local communities, people are not in favour of running their own libraries, but, as they are in favour of keeping the public libraries in their communities, they feel that they have to run them or run the risk of losing them.

Emotionally blackmailing people into running a library service in this way, because the local authority no longer wishes to continue providing the service, is wrong and morally questionable.

We also have to raise the question that, if the local community can see the value of having a local public library so much that they are prepared to volunteer to help run it, then why can’t councils see the value in keeping that library open and continue to fund it themselves with trained staff?

Ramsgate library - ijclark

Ramsgate library – ijclark/Flickr

Save Our Libraries ribbons

Save Our Libraries Ribbon
Save Our Libraries!

Campaigners in Oxfordshire used the recent Oxford Literary Festival as an opportunity to promote their cause by asking speakers to wear a ribbon (above) in support. Among those sporting ribbons during the event were:

Rebecca Abrams
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Jim al-Khalili
Carole Angier
Professor Peter Atkins
Melvyn Bragg
John Carey
Kate Clanchy
Ann Cleeves
Dr Sally Cline
David Constantine
Michael Frayn
Ian Goldin
Linda Grant
A.C. Grayling
Joanne Harris
James Hawes
Michael Holroyd
Tristram Hunt
Will Hutton
Kazuo Ishiguro
John Kampfner
Sir Anthony Kenny
Prue Leith
Phillip Mansel
David Marquand
David Nicholls
John Julius Norwich
Jem Poster
Philip Pullman
Michael Rosen
Jo Schofield
Avi Shlaim
Tim Smit
Sarah Thomas
Jacqueline Wilson
Simon Winchester
Inspired by their example, and with their permission, Voices for the Library are offering other campaigns the opportunity to join in. We plan to offer the ribbons, in return for a small donation, at all the events we will be attending over the summer. If any other local or national campaigns are interested in obtaining a supply of ribbons for their own use we’ll be happy to hear from you via the usual email address:

(Ribbons cost between 13p and 18p each depending on quantity ordered.)

This is a great opportunity to grow national support for our public library service as well as an opportunity for local campaigns to raise money for their cause.

We are grateful to our sponsors, Credo Reference Limited, for their continued support and for financing our initial purchase of ribbons.

Borrow. A poem by Rosie Miles

What does it mean, the children ask, borrow a book?
Why borrow when you can buy everything – print on demand –

from a warehouse the size of the amazon rainforest
or download to read later?  They laugh when we say we

used to walk to a building where you could ‘borrow’ books.
The brown packages tumble through the letterbox:

as if they’d ever give them back!  The boy skims through
a billion pages.  The girl fondles her kindle like a wounded pet.

They look up at us and smile, their eyes shining pixels:
what does it mean, the last library has shut tight?

We try to explain.  Date stamps flicker on their lashes.

Rosie Miles (February 2011)

Tigers, Poets, and Superheroes

The importance of public libraries to their communities is reflected in the range and variety of events and activities that take place in and around them. With this in mind, here are another few highlights of the activities taking place in libraries around the UK:

Kirklees Libraries’ homebound borrowers were treated to a day out at Huddersfield town hall in a co-operatively organised event. A range of activities and entertainment was laid on, such as storytelling, an exercise session, the Borough Organist, and useful information on the Digital Switch-Over/benefits/pensions was provided too.

One of the Kirklees Libraries’ staff members, Jo Haslam, has recently been awarded joint second prize (out of 12,000 entries!) in the National Poetry Society Competition for her piece ‘Wish’. She will be appearing at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in July. Jo works as a Bibliotherapist and Customer Service Officer at Slaithwaite Library.

Chris Manby visited Gowerton Library on Thursday 14th of April. She spoke to an enthralled audience about her newest romantic comedy ‘Kate’s Wedding’ and the trials and tribulations of being a writer. Swansea Libraries also have a busy schedule of fun free childrens events and activities during the Easter holidays – just like your local library! Theirs will include, amongst others: a Superhero party, a visit from Zoolab’s creepy-crawlies, and screenings of several family films.

Pictures of the new library facility for Southend town centre have been released – the new joint venture between Southend Council, Essex University and South Essex College will provide a fantastic asset to the people of the town. As well as housing the library, it will also house the Focal Point Gallery, a lecture theatre, meeting/teaching rooms, a higher education centre, and a cafe. There will also be a public square outside the building.

Edinburgh Libraries have started a new initiative called ‘Tiger Tales‘ aimed at parents with children aged 4-8. This will give them the opportunity to sit down together and enjoy a story told by the Tiger Tale Tellers, and to socialise with other parents and children in a safe environment. To add some extra excitement, the first session was held within Edinburgh Zoo and also featured a jungle quiz, face-painting and other activities.

That’s just a small number of the things going on in libraries. If you want to find out what’s going on in your local public library why not visit your local library website and look for the “What’s on?” or “Events” link on it for more details.

…and, if you’ve enjoyed an event at your local library, why not share your experiences with us, by emailing us with details at