In the current climate, the fight for our public services is ongoing. This is no less true for public libraries, a service that continues to see severe cuts, hollowing out, mass closures and deprofessionalisation. Although the main focus of Voices for the Library was initially on the situation facing public libraries, we quickly came to recognise that the assault on public libraries is part of a wider assault on public services. It was not enough merely to speak out for public libraries, it was (and continues to be) a fight for public services in general and against the programme of austerity that is demonstrably unnecessary.
Unfortunately, we ourselves are volunteers running an organisation in our spare time. We are unhappy to say that we can no longer undertake the work required to be a voice for public libraries. It is with great sorrow that we have decided that it’s time to close the doors on Voices for the Library. The irony of this is not lost on us. As libraries are increasingly forced onto local community groups to run them on a so-called voluntary basis (there is nothing “voluntary” about it), we are clear that there is only so much volunteers can do before reality hits and the service starts to fall apart at the seams. Volunteer run libraries are, in essence, a disaster waiting to happen for the people that rely on their local public library service (and it is theirs, not the councillors).
Over the past seven years, we have tried to shine a spotlight on the plight of our public library service. We have aimed to provide a voice for the service in the media when there was none. Our work has prompted others that were previously quiet to get involved, to speak out, to highlight the importance of the public library service. As we look back on our work through Voices for the Library, although the future of public libraries does not appear to be what we were fighting for, we hope our work has had some impact and caused local authorities and the national government to give pause to the swingeing cuts they would happily have enacted across the UK had they not been challenged.
We are proud of what Voices for the Library has achieved with limited resources beyond a strong network of passionate people.
- Supporting campaigns at a national and local level to help them develop strategies and approaches;
- Participation in the Speak Up For Libraries coalition to develop solidarity across the UK;
- Responding to local and central government inquiries and being involved in discussions with ministers; including giving evidence at a Select Committee hearing, to lend our expertise and inform policy;
- Over a hundred media interviews in response to library cuts to give voice to library users and library workers, explaining the damaging impact of spending cuts for individuals and society;
- Highlighting through our website, social media and other publications that public libraries have significant social value and that their loss will be felt in many areas of life.
The end of Voices for the Library does not mean the end of the fight. Individually we will continue to speak up for libraries and defend them in the face of an ideology that threatens all of our public services. We will continue to support and give voice to the fight not only for libraries, but against a crippling economic obsession by politicians and large swathes of the media that is irreparably damaging our public services.
In spite of the unhappy nature of the reason we came together to set up Voices, we will be taking so many happy memories with us. This is in no small part due to the friends we have made along the way. We would like to thank all of those who have supported us and that have joined with us in speaking up for the public library service over the past seven years. We’d especially like to thank everyone who’s contributed through membership of Voices: Johanna Anderson, Ian Anstice, Abigail Barker, Simon Barron, Phil Bradley, Adrienne Cooper, Mick Fortune, Alice Halsey, Sarah Lewis-Newton, Mandy Powell, Jo Richardson , Christine Rooney-Browne, Bethan Ruddock, Katy Wrathall, and Alan Wylie.
Finally, we offer solidarity and thanks to all library users and library workers who continue to defend their service against those who seek to destroy it.
Gary, Ian, Lauren and Tom.
The #LibraryAtoZ project (we mentioned this previously on the site) has more free note/greeting cards to distribute. So, at this time of year it would be a great opportunity to send them as an extra special festive greeting to your local library funders etc and remind them of why we love our libraries. Or maybe you’d like to use them in another way to spread the message about the value of public libraries. That’s fine too.
If you would like some sent to you for free please fill in the contact form on the Library A to Z site.
On Saturday around 3,000 library, museums and galleries staff, supporters and campaigners, including many authors, and a few politicians from around the country met at The British Library for a rally and march to The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square in opposition to cuts in these sectors. It was great to see so many supporters gathered at an event to show how much they cared about these services. The march began and ended with passionate speeches from people such as Lord John Bird, authors Michael Rosen and Philip Ardagh, as well as campaigners from areas affected by the cuts that have been steadily ongoing around the country for the past 5 years. As we marched along Euston Road, onto The British Museum and down to The National Gallery holding the Speak Up For Libraries banner along with other library workers, the support we and the other few thousand marchers received from drivers and passers-by was more than appreciated.Though the march and rally was a success it really does need to be just the start. Along with other campaigners, Voices for the Library we have been fighting these cuts for the past 5 years, and as they still continue to bite harder we will still need to continue to fight them along with the many other campaigners, library supporters and staff around the country. Indeed further rallies and marches are planned across the country already.For more coverage of the rally and march take a look at the links below.Thanks to the organisers, including Voices for the Library team member, Alan Wylie for organising such a successful day.
Michael shares his powerful story, and thanks the staff at Fulham Library, which was so important to him during a difficult time when he was a child.
26 March 2016
To the staff of Fulham Library
THANK YOU FOR BEING THERE WHEN I NEEDED YOU MOST
On the eve of my retirement it now seems like the right time to write and say a very personal thank you to the local Ibrary of my youth – Fulham Library – which I used from the age of 6. The library and staff played an important part in my life more so than they realised.
They did not know it but the library staff back in the early 1960s helped me through a difficult time. When l was a young child I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. l was strong enough
to ﬁght back and get away but not strong enough to tell my parents nor anyone else – not for
more than 50 years. I now know that what happened was relatively minor in the scheme of
things. But to my younger self it was a horrible thing. The assault was relatively brief but the
bad dreams lingered. My local library helped me get through the worst of it. lt was a place of
safety for me – a refuge. l felt safe with the ‘Iibrary lady.’ She was neiher parent nor
teacher. She did not tell me what to do but she was there to help me and did. There were
times when I was reading one book a day but even at that rate I could not read them all but each one took me on a journey and soon the bad dreams gave way to good ones.
When I look back through my life and consider where my various interests began the vast
majority can be traced back to a book that I first read at your llbrary. Even my love of
classical music came from you. Do you remember how long it took to check the vinyl
records? What a pain.
I came back to visit the other day. Lots of people there. Far busier than I remember. Times
have changed and so has the library – for the better. One thing hasn‘t changed. A member
of staff was still there in the children’s section. Sometimes I wonder how my life might have
turned out if there was no one there? What matters though is that the library and staff were
there for me when I needed them most and for that I am eternally grateful.
More than 50 years have now passed so I can no longer thank the individual librarians
directly but there will be others like myself who have been helped over the years. On behalf
of us all. I would like to extend my thanks to librarians past. present and future wherever and
whenever they may be. The world is a much better place with libraries and librarians.
Michael J Keane
It’s not just libraries facing cuts. Other cultural services are at risk too. With this in mind, there will be a national demonstration on 5th November in London in support of libraries, museums and galleries. It starts at The British Library (12 noon) and will finish at Trafalgar Square/The National Gallery. Please show your support for this important demonstration in any way you can. Representatives from Voices for the Library will be there, and we hope to you can be too.
Further details about the demonstration will be posted in September.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to share your perspectives on our library service.
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 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”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.
This 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.
Don’t forget that this coming Saturday is National Libraries Day.
If you’re still looking for last minute ideas try the National Libraries Day site.
If you’re running an event add it to the site here. You can also find events in your local area via that link too.
If you’re tweeting, the hashtag has changed and is now #librariesday. In previous years the hashtag has trended on National Libraries Day and it would be great to see this happen again.
Following on from National Libraries Day there’s also a lobby of Parliament happening for public libraries – everyone is welcome to come along. Take a look at the Speak Up For Libraries site for more details.