A day of protest Read-Ins happened across the country on 5th February 2011, and many campaigns are holding them in protest to local cuts. But what are Read-Ins, and why are they important?
What’s a Read-In?
Quite simply, Read-Ins are a way of demonstrating the need for public libraries and disagreement with local councils’ decisions. They’re family-friendly, peaceful and bring together people from all over the community who share the belief that public libraries are a vital public service. It really is up to you as to what will be happening at your Read-In. It could be exactly what it says on the tin – a large group of people descending upon the library to read quietly. Or, it could be a much more vibrant event. Save Doncaster Libraries have been holding Read-Ins since July. There have been authors, poets and musicians who’ve put on entertainment, not only to lift the spirits of people fighting library closures, but also to show what kind of things can take place in libraries that are of real value to communities, particularly young children and families. Members of the public have spoken publicly about what the library service means to them and how their lives will change for the worse without it. And of course, Read-Ins are the perfect place to get lots of people to sign petitions against cuts to libraries. Here are some photos from Doncaster events:
Why Are Read-Ins Important?
Campaign groups have been working around the country to advocate for libraries and argue that the public needs them. They have been trying to convince councils that cuts to library services are a false economy that will cost councils more money in the long-term even though libraries continue to be incredibly important (in fact, many argue that libraries are more important now than ever). Campaign groups, authors and the public have been holding protests and communicating with councils, but severe cuts are still being proposed. It’s important for people to engage with what’s going on around them and to show the council and the councillors they vote for that cuts to libraries are not acceptable. Read-Ins are an excellent (and fun!) way to do that.
When: Any time that works strategically for your library campaign. For the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign, that’s 29th January, as soon as we can after the extent of the cuts in Doncaster is announced on 11th January in the Mayor’s budget, and then 5th February, which is the announced national day of action against library cuts. There’s still time for you to organise something for that day, and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise it through national media channels if you send details to him by mid-January. Pick a time to hold the Read-In. It could be a couple of hours long, or last the whole day. Make sure you check the opening times of the library! Saturdays are the best day, obviously, so that more people can get involved.
Where: Wherever there’s a library under threat. You could hold a Read-In at the threatened branch itself, or at the central library of the town it’s in, if the smaller branch itself is hard to reach. An event at the central branch might be more practical and effective. For example, Doncaster is the largest metropolitan borough in the country, which means that it can be difficult, expensive and take a long time for people to get from one side of the borough to the other, hence the Read-In at the central branch on 29th January, even though the central library itself (as far as we know) isn’t set to close.
How: After you’ve picked a date and time, publicise it.
Police: The first thing it can be helpful to do is let the local police station know that there will be a Read-In. Remember, you have a right to protest and you’re not obliged to let the police know if you’re not organising a march, but it can be helpful. They can give advice about what to avoid (like obstructing public rights of way). Let them know it’s not a militant or violent protest. As soon as you mention libraries, they’ll probably laugh and say “right, so we don’t need to send a riot van then”, which is what I’ve experienced!
Communities: Make phonecalls, send emails, start a Facebook group and set up an event, give out flyers, put up posters in local shops, put an advert in the local paper, spread the word when you’re in the Post Office and ask people to mention it when they’re out and about.
Media: Let local (and national) newspapers and radio stations know. Journalists are more likely to pick up on the event if you send them a press release. There’s advice about how to write one here. Tell unions and anti-cuts organisations like False Economy, UK Uncut, Coalition of Resistance and Unison. Voices for the Library and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise your event.
It’s a good idea to designate a media contact for the event in case journalists want to interview someone beforehand or come to the event and interview someone there. They’re likely to want to know:
- What cuts are being made
- Which libraries are under threat
- How many members of staff are likely to lose their jobs
- By how much the book budget will be cut
- Who stands to lose out because of the cuts
- What impact the cuts will have
- What new things are being proposed (for example, replacing paid staff with volunteers or self-service machines)
- Why volunteers can’t and shouldn’t run a library service
- How the decision-making processes of the council are flawed
- How cuts to libraries are counter-productive and disproportionate
Gather together as much information as you can and be prepared to answer questions. You can use the information to make flyers with key information on them to give out at the event, too.
You need to think about what you’re going to do with people when they all turn up at the library. Some ideas are:
- Ask people to sign a petition against proposed cuts and closures. Some councils don’t allow petition-signing to take place on council property (although most do), so it might be best to do it as people go in and out. Or, just make sure you don’t do it inside if you’re asked not to and shown the proof that you’re not allowed to
- Use the library! Browse the shelves, borrow resources, use the PCs, read the newspapers.
- Encourage people to join the library if they’re not already members.
- Get people to talk about what libraries mean to them, and how it will affect them if the library service is cut.
- Hold readings of favourite books.
- Get the kids involved – take some costumes, read aloud, get them drawing and writing, dancing and singing.
- Have a musical interlude.
- Get people to write to their MP and the council.
- Maybe walk in and out a few times to really up the footfall statistics
Who: Everybody. The point of public libraries is that they’re there for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or political affiliation. Libraries are non-judgemental, democratic institutions that are open to all. It’s important for library campaign groups to be non-Political (with a big P) and promote the values of the public library. This means being welcoming to all and not discouraging anyone from taking part. It’s therefore important for publicity like flyers, posters and banners to be free of logos and have an inclusive tone. It may well be that your potentially strongest supporters may well have changed their mind about who they voted for in the first place, and being openly anti-whoever could prevent them from making their voices heard.