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.