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.
Earlier this month librarian Tim Parkin was interviewed on Talk Radio Europe discussing library cuts in the UK. The full interview can be listened to below.
As Tim in his interview rightly says “…a cut of £1,000,000 from a service is never going to leave it better. It will always leave it worse.”
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.
We welcome CILIP’s recently launched campaign, My Library By Right, which champions the call for access to quality public library services, including:
- The public’s rights to libraries to be recognised and respected
- Public libraries to be treated as the statutory services they are
- The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to carry out their legal duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act
- Statutory guidance for local authorities on their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act from DCMS, with support from CILIP and the library and information profession
The campaign has also resulted in a petition to MP John Whittingdale (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport), which we would encourage everyone to sign.
CILIP have also suggested showing your support for the campaign in the following ways:
- Tweet your support: I’m standing up for our right to libraries #MyLibraryByRight
- Download the poster
- Download the logo to share on social media
- Show your support on National Libraries Day, 6 February
Full details of the campaign can be found here.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I was seven years old when I began my lifelong love of libraries. I loved reading and there just weren’t enough books around to satisfy my appetite. I’d got through the school reading programme and was able to choose which book I wanted but the choice was limited. Lots of ‘easy’ versions of classic books such as ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Kidnapped’ – books that had been written a hundred years or so ago, but I wanted books that were about children in today’s world, books I could identify with and engage with.
I read and read and read, beside the fire on cold winter evenings and under the bedclothes at night when I should have been going to sleep. Books hooked me, I always had my nose in a book. However boring life was, a book could lead me away from everyday life and into fantasy worlds that would excite and inspire me. To my mind, a book was a ticket to an adventure, and that’s something I’m always speaking about to the children I meet. One day my Mum took me along to the library and showed me the children’s section. There were shelves full of books by Enid Blyton that I’d never read. I joined Ramsgate library at that point and I’ve been a library member somewhere or other ever since. I carried home two books that day and two days later I’d read them both. Back we went for two more. At least twice a week I took books out of the library. Once I’d finished with Enid Blyton, there was Jennings, and his friend Darbishire, in a series of books by another wonderful writer called Anthony Buckeridge. They were set in a boys’ prep school and I was captured from the first one.The books were funny and Jennings was always in trouble, particularly with his form teacher Mr. Wilkins who was a man with little patience and a fiery temper.
I roamed the woods and built camps with ‘Just William’ and the Outlaws, Henry, Ginger & Douglas. The books by Richmal Crompton were wonderful. It was a boy’s world that she described although the gang were often bothered by Violet Elizabeth Bott who demanded that she played with them otherwise she would, “Thcream and thcream ’till I’m thick”.
( No, that’s not spelling mistakes, it’s how Crompton wrote it in the books!)
I then read the Billy Bunter stories written by Frank Richards.These were set at Greyfriars School where Bunter was a pupil. Bunter was an unlikely hero in that he was ‘stout’ deceitful, lazy and a glutton for food. He would do anything he could to find food even if it meant helping himself to his classmates’ cakes and sweets. Often this would result in him receiving ‘a good kicking’ once his crimes were discovered.
After I’d devoured all the Billy Bunter books that the library had to offer, I discovered the Biggles books by Capt. W.E.Johns. These were originally written for an older audience but appealed very much to young boys. Biggles was a fictional pilot who had flown in World War 1 and in the years that followed the war. Longing for such adventures ourselves, we would imagine ourselves sitting alongside Biggles in the cockpit of his plane while he shot down German air aces in the war, or battled criminals around the world.
In the late 1950s, there was also a library in Boots the Chemist, and I joined this too as they seemed to have different Biggles books to the ones I found in the Public Library. Odd to think that once Boots had a library when we think about the shop today.
There were very few ‘Young Adult’ books around when I became a teenager and by the age of 14 I was reading books from the adult library. I think I should have been 16 to enroll but the library staff knew me from my regular visits, and with my Mum’s permission, I was able to start a whole new reading adventure. There was a little guidance from the librarians but very quickly I was out on my own and the library became a treasure chest for me to explore and sometimes find a gem. I read all the Sherlock Holmes books, and later, on James Bond, although my Dad rather disapproved of the Bond books!
It dismays me these days to hear of so many libraries all across the country being closed down by councils. Do they have any idea how important libraries have been and still are? Ramsgate library suffered a fire a few years ago but has now been rebuilt and looks stunning. Sometimes I go back to Ramsgate to tend my parents’ grave and I always call in at the library to take a look around and to remember that it made me a reader for life. I owe that library a huge debt of gratitude.
(Originally posted on Brian’s blog. Shared with permission of the author.)