Tag Archives: closures

My little rant about libraries – Bex’s story

The following post was contributed by Bex Hughes and originally appeared on her book review blog, An Armchair by the Sea. We are grateful to Bex for allowing us to reproduce an edited version of her post here.

The Old Library, Windmill rd, Hampton Hill. (Image c/o Jonathan Cardy).

A lot has been going on with the libraries lately, especially in my former home town of London. I think, though I’m not sure, that this is also the case in the U.S as well as here in the U.K, but certainly there has been a lot of hype over our wonderful (heavy, heavy sarcasm) government and their ideas about what is culturally important and what isn’t. Apparently, it isn’t important that children be encouraged to read independently, or that they are provided with a safe haven outside of the home where they can go to do homework or just sit on the internet without their sister hanging over their shoulder going ‘it’s my turn now, you’ve had an hour, get off the computer!’.

This is the library I grew up in. It’s a converted fire station and over the door, although you can’t see it in this photo, the words ‘Free Library’ are carved into the stone. The whole of the right hand side was the children’s section, and we used to go there for story time once a week pretty much since I was born, and with all of my siblings. We also used to have a weekly excursion to the library – of course precluded by me running around the house shouting at people to help me find whatever book I’d lost that week, which quite often turned up in the end of my bed…- and I still remember how excited I was when I turned 11 and could take out ten books on my card instead of five (don’t even get me started on how excited I was when we moved to Kent, aged 23, and found out I could take out THIRTY books). As a child, buying books was a total luxury – we used to go to the local children’s bookshop (The Lion and the Unicorn, which has to be my favourite children’s bookshop ever, and I know I share all these links with you and you will probably never go to the places, but I wouldn’t like to not share them, and then you’re somehow in the area and miss out because you don’t know about them!) once a year, at the beginning of the summer holidays and we got to buy two new books each for the summer and it was about the most exciting thing ever. So without the library, my discovery of new worlds (especially those of The Babysitter’s Club, The Saddle Club, The Famous Five and The Secret Seven) would have been hugely limited.

Two major mainstays of my childhood existence were the craft days that the library used to run during school holidays, where we would do an entire day of craft activities based around a particular book (I don’t remember any of the books in particular, but when my brother was little they did a really good one on The Gruffalo). We used to make murals and stuff and it was awesome and you got to meet loads of people who lived in the area who you would often then see during your weekly trips to the library. Also, they cost about £2 to attend, which was really good for our family of 7! The other one was library book sales! One year my sister gave me about 20 Babysitters Club books for Christmas, which she had been buying from library sales for 10p each for most of the year. To this day, it remains one of my favourite ever presents.

I know I’m one of those geeky people who is slightly too obsessed with books and reading, but I did actually have a very balanced childhood – lots of swimming, athletics, long walks in the park with my family where my mum would teach us how to make signs out of sticks and trail each other, after school drama club, piano lessons… etc etc etc. Despite all of that, I literally cannot imagine what my childhood would have been like without my library, and although both of the areas I call home have been really lucky during this whole library closures situation, I know there are many others who haven’t been so fortunate, and I am so sad for them.

Zadie Smith has written a beautiful article about the closures in North West London, which I would really recommend reading if you’ve any interest in the issue. Somehow the local council think it’s OK to storm an historic building in the middle of the night, removing articles of importance (including the plaque from its’ opening by Mark Twain!!). I don’t understand quite how we can get through to the government that it’s really not OK to treat literature this way; that just because it isn’t ‘valuable’ to them (or because other services are deemed more important), doesn’t mean it isn’t to anybody, and I know that a lot of people have little interest in what happens in London, but having lived there I would say that by closing down libraries they’re just asking to make a whole load of problems very much worse.

I know that it isn’t just me who feels strongly that the closure of libraries is wrong; I’m writing in a community of people who adore books and libraries, and whose childhoods were probably as shaped by them if not more than mine was. I don’t know what to do about it, so I’m writing about it.

This article from the Guardian website has a lot of stats about the popularity of libraries – apparently they are the most popular facility provided by councils, despite various councillors continually telling us they are not used.

Also, little quote from the awesome that is Roald Dahl:

“Over the next few afternoons Mrs Phelps could hardly take her eyes from the small girl sitting for hour after hour in the big armchair at the far end of the room with the book on her lap. It was necessary to rest it on the lap because it was too heavy for her to hold up, which meant she had to sit leaning forward in order to read. And a strange sight it was, this tiny dark-haired person sitting there with her feet nowhere near touching the floor, totally absorbed in the wonderful adventures of Pip and old Miss Havisham and her cobwebbed house and by the spell of magic that Dickens the great story-teller had woven with his words.”

Parental neglect and the fact that we aren’t all prodigy’s like Matilda aside, surely this is the kind of experience that libraries have the potential to provide? Why does anybody feel they have the right to take that experience away?

If you would like to write a post about how libraries/librarians have had an impact on you or why you think they are important, please contact us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk.

We will Speak Up For Libraries #librarieslobby

A rally and lobby of Parliament will take place tomorrow (Tuesday 13 March) in Westminster to highlight the value of public libraries and the important role they play. The event aims to persuade MPs to take action to protect public library services during these times of public sector cuts. Anybody who supports public libraries is welcome to attend.

The rally will take place from 12 noon, at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. The lobby of Parliament will start at 2.30pm. Prior to the rally and lobby, Ed Vaizey’s evidence session for the Inquiry into library closures will be screened live from 10.30am in Central Hall Westminster.

The lobby has been organised by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition, an alliance of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff. Voices For The Library are part of this coalition.

Since forming Voices For The Library, we have constantly had to defend public libraries against those in power who do not seem to understand their value. We’ve seen local campaigns emerge throughout the country in response to these cuts – campaigners fighting for their own local libraries against authorities who do not understand the purpose of libraries, and do not understand how libraries and trained library staff benefit library users, the local community, local economy and the UK as a whole. Many of these campaigners have been put into a position where they are effectively acting as superintendent to their own library service, despite this being the responsibility of Jeremy Hunt & Ed Vaizey. Local authorities have not listened to local campaigners concerns. Neither have Jeremy Hunt, Ed Vaizey or the DCMS. So now, as part of Speak Up For Libraries, we must take this to Parliament to ask MP’s to make a stand and help protect the future of the nation’s threatened public libraries.

We feel it’s important to attend tomorrow to show those who dismiss public libraries as irrelevant just how important they are and why they are essential. We would urge you to attend if you can – the more people there are there, the louder our voices will be and the clearer the message will be that we will continue to fight and Speak Up For Libraries. If you are coming please sign up on the Speak Up For Libraries site.

However, if you can’t attend, you can still show your support by doing the following:

However you chose to do it on the day, please Speak Up For Libraries!

Evidence sessions for Parliamentary Inquiry into library closures

The second evidence session for The Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry into library closures will take place on Tuesday 21 February (Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster).

The Committee will hear evidence from representatives of Arts Council England, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Isle of Wight Council, Leicestershire Library Services and the Local Government Association.

Further details of the session can be found here.

The session will be screened on the internet via Parliament.tv

The first session saw Abby Barker (Voices for The Library),  Sue Charteris (author of the report on Wirral library closures), Andrew Coburn (The Library Campaign) and Miranda McKearney (The Reading Agency) give evidence.

Below are some of the comments and points raised during that session (paraphrased).

  • Miranda McKearney: The passionate work of campaigners over the past 18 months has started to shift the debate about what libraries mean to us all.
  • Abby Barker: A lot of people making these cuts don’t understand what a library is, or what it does, or what librarians can offer.
  • Andrew Coburn: In local areas libraries offer a social place to build communities, based around services they provide.
  • Abby Barker: Local libraries are important. Not all people can get to the central library branch. There is room for both large ‘destination’ libraries and small libraries to provide services. They complement each other.
  •  Abby Barker: The cuts are focused on books & buildings. Librarians aren’t just there to stamp books. Librarians are there to enhance your experience of the library.
  • Andrew Coburn: A lot of what library staff do is about direction, mediation & assistance. The fewer library staff there are in the system the more difficult it is to get an answer from anywhere in that system.
  •  Miranda McKearney: Even though ‘you clearly have access to the things you need to live your life. Lots of people don’t’. (Response to MP about why libraries are needed)
  • Abby Barker: If comprehensive & efficient could be more clearly defined, local authorities may be able to make better decisions.
  • Abby Barker: Library consultations are being run from the top down and local authorities are not listening to or taking into account users needs.
  • Andrew Coburn: What’s the point of the Secretary of State having powers of intervention if they aren’t used? He needs to “grasp the nettle.”
  • Andrew Coburn: How will volunteer run libraries affect the statutory duties?
  • Abby Barker: Volunteers can add value to a library service, but they shouldn’t be seen as a replacement service.
  • Miranda McKearney: Partnership working on a national level with librarians is difficult because there aren’t enough of them.
  • Miranda McKearney: There are some things you can only do nationally to improve library services – we need a national strategy!
  • Sue Charteris: Local authorities need to look at equalities assessment of local needs.
  • Sue Charteris: Isn’t keen on having more regulations, but feels local authorities need guidance from Secretary of State & Arts Council England.
  • Sue Charteris: Library services need proper communications teams to sell their benefits.
  • Sue Charteris: There has to be a prominent role for librarians in providing public library services. They are key.
  • Sue Charteris: Volunteers are well-placed to do certain things in libraries, but a sound policy on volunteering by local authorities is key.
  • Sue Charteris: The Secretary of State role needs to be more pro-active nationally.
  • Sue Charteris: Current public library legislation needs to be looked at, because it is “cumbersome” and out-of-date.
  • Sue Charteris: Believes that some kind of peer review would be useful to ensure library services are heading in the right direction.

Parliamentary lobby & rally 13 March 2012 #librarieslobby

An important Parliamentary lobby and rally organised by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition will take place on 13th March 2012.

The rally will take place from 11.30am at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. The lobby of Parliament will start at 2.30pm.

We urge everyone to find out more and sign up to attend via the Speak Up For Libraries website.

You can also follow Speak Up For Libraries on Twitter and on Facebook.

Speak Up For Libraries are a coalition of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff, now and in the future.

Our evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

Following our submission of evidence earlier this month to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into library closures, we have been given permission to publish it on our website.

In summary we felt that:

  • A comprehensive and efficient library service should be accessible, should be adequately resourced, should have a wide range of services and content, should have sufficiently skilled staff, and should be available to users at their point of need.
  • The English public widely value libraries as a force for social good which should be provided free.
  • Many planned library cuts and closures are incompatible with the requirements of the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964: removing qualified and trained library staff will result in a failure to provide adequate services under the terms of the Act and in many cases, councils are making decisions to close libraries based on misleading statistics, an inadequate definition of ‘comprehensive and efficient’, and the outdated Act itself.
  • There is strong evidence that communities value local public libraries and that closures would therefore have a negative impact in several ways: on children; on the physical, mental, and emotional health of communities; on lifelong learning; on community cohesion and inclusivity; and on local economies.
  • The powers of intervention given to the Secretary of State are not deficient. The failure lies with the Secretary of State’s lack of willingness to exercise these powers, coupled with lack of guidance from senior ministers and appropriate Government departments.

Our full response to the Inquiry can be found here.

We have also been invited to give oral evidence to the Committee leading the Inquiry.

Lobby for libraries over literacy timebomb (13th March)

UNISON, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI), Voices for the Library, The Library Campaign, Campaign for the Book and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) have today announced they will hold a joint lobby of Parliament calling on politicians to protect vital library services.

During the lobby, on 13 March, the campaigning group will highlight the importance of libraries in providing access to learning and as a vital lifeline for many communities.

The lobby will take place at:

Tuesday 13 March
Central Hall

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, said:

“Cutting libraries is not an easy solution for councils to save cash – it is a literacy time bomb for deprived communities.

“Community groups are being held to ransom by Government plans to force them to take over the running of services, or lose them. These groups don’t have the time, skills and resources to take over the jobs of experienced library staff.

“A shocking 30,000 children are leaving primary school with a reading age of seven or below and libraries are a vital lifeline for community groups. We need a national vision of a modern library service, as an investment in the future generation.”

Ruth Bond, Chair of the NFWI said:

“The NFWI is delighted to support the lobby of parliament. A threat to local library services is a threat to a community’s education and as champions of libraries for the past 96 years, WI members are gravely concerned that so many local authorities are riding roughshod over educational resources while the Government watches in silence. It is simply not good enough to assume that volunteers will step in to continue providing services previously supplied by professionals; the Government cannot rely on community-minded individuals to step into the breach to bridge the gaps, and the loss of professional expertise is irreplaceable.

“Local libraries are a fundamental information and education resource. Whilst in their essence, libraries facilitate access to books and resources, they play a much wider role in promoting shared knowledge and equality of opportunity, facilitating community cohesion, and enabling life-long learning and literacy from cradle to grave.”

Abby Barker, from Voices for the Library, said:

“Voices for the Library are urging anyone concerned for the future of the library service in the UK to get involved on March 13th. This is your chance to tell your MP how vital your local library service is, and to ask them to call the Secretary of State to task over his noticeable lack of involvement. The 1964 Museums and Public Libraries Act very clearly puts public libraries under the superintendence of the Secretary of State, however, Jeremy Hunt has yet to intervene on any level, even in the most extreme cases.”

Andrew Coburn, Secretary of The Library Campaign, said:

“Public libraries still have a wide-ranging role in encouraging literacy and education as well as providing literature for leisure and information. MPs need to know what a real 21st century library service can provide – so that they can join the thousands who are trying to prevent their branches being closed and services mutilated.”

Alan Gibbons, Author and Organiser of Campaign for the Book said:

“A reading child is a successful child. The National Literary Trust has found that a child who goes to a library is twice as likely to read well as one who doesn’t.  The UK currently stands at 25th in the PISA International Reading ranking.  Libraries are vital to improving this position.  We have to fight for the defence and extension of public library services.”

Annie Mauger, Chief Executive of CILIP said:

“The professional skills and expertise of library staff are core to providing the public with a quality library service. Volunteers should supplement and enrich a professionally led service, not replace the knowledge and skills of staff. We are concerned that public library services in England are being damaged; the impact will be felt now and in the long term. We urge the Secretary of State to use his powers of intervention where there is clear evidence that the Public Libraries & Museums Act (1964) has been potentially breached. It is wrong to view public libraries solely as a cost; by providing opportunities for learning and literacy development libraries are an investment in communities, families and individuals.”

You can follow the lobby on Twitter  using the #librarieslobby hashtag.

Kirklees to close seven public libraries

An anonymous source sent the following to Voices for the Library, reporting Kirklees Council’s decision to close seven out of its 26 libraries:

“Kirklees council are planning to close off access to local library service funding and national statutory obligations by moving seven ‘village’ libraries out of local authority control. This despite stating that no libraries would close and with a library service review that has yet to take place.

Public libraries at: Denby DaleGolcarHonleyKirkheatonLeptonShepley & Slaithwaite will be ‘offered’ to residents, communities, charities or private organisations as an opportunity for them to run an essential community resource. Offered on the table of financial cuts and political cowardice, Kirklees council have quite simply decided to close seven libraries.

Lacking any sense of the uniqueness or worth of free public libraries the council are blindly following the desperate policies of a number of other councils across the country. There are no examples of volunteer-run libraries delivering an inclusive service of such quality and breadth as those currently staffed by committed and professional people. There is no model upon which this scheme is based and in all likelihood no plan from Kirklees as to how this will be achieved.

  • Who made this nonsensical decision?
  • Why did they make it?
  • What details do they have?
  • Did you vote for them?

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests concerning the full disclosure of all decisions, persons, documents, minutes and other media relating to these plans should be addressed to:

The Information Access Officer
2nd Floor
Civic Centre 3
Market Street

and further information found here

Details of the councillors supposedly representing the communities around the seven libraries can be found on the search for councillors page.”

Outcome of Brent Judicial Review

Voices for the Library would like to express our disappointment with this morning’s ruling over the future of Brent libraries.  We would also like to re-state our support for library campaigners in Brent who have fought so hard to protect their library service for the good of the broader community.

The victory for Brent council sends out a very worrying message for library campaigners everywhere.  Council leaders across the country may look to this ruling to justify library closures and will see this ruling as the legal backing they require to go ahead with planned library closures.  They would be wrong to do so. Mr Justice Ouseley remarked during this morning’s proceedings that he did not believe the ruling in Brent had wide significance across the country, but instead reflected a judgement purely on how Brent council had approached its local situation. Councils should not, therefore, see this outcome as an excuse to cut their own services in a similar way.

Libraries across the country provide a vital service for many across the boundaries of society.  From young and old to rich and poor, libraries provide services for everyone. In the age of the internet it is easy to assume everyone has access to a wealth of free information.  The reality is that there are 9 million people in this country who are not connected to the internet.  For those 9 million people, the library is the only resource they have.  For parents of young children, the library plays an important role in supporting their development and improving their literacy skills.  For the elderly it is a vital lifeline to ensure they are not excluded from society.

Those who care about libraries across this country must come together and ensure that this ruling does not have the effect that many council leaders desire.  Together we can make a difference.  Together we can put pressure on Ed Vaizey to fulfil his commitment as Minister for libraries and ensure that library services across the country are truly comprehensive and efficient.  Write to Ed Vaizey and your councillors, get involved in local campaigns, encourage everyone you know to support and use their local library.  Together we can stop our library service being totally destroyed by those that do not understand the benefits they bring to local communities.

To the campaigners in Brent, we also say that whilst we share your disappointment, we hope you continue to fight your case at every turn.  You can be assured that we will stand and fight with you.  Today has undoubtedly been a setback but the outpouring of support for public libraries throughout the day should remind us that our cause is right.

Campaigners from Brent and around the country will be meeting on Saturday 22nd October at  University of London Union to co-ordinate efforts. See here for more details.

See here for a response from Unison and here for a response from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

Update: 20/10/11

Brent campaigners have been granted permission to appeal the decision made by Mr Justice Ouseley. The appeal is due to be heard in three weeks.

The situation in Northern Ireland

We received the following guest post from John Kelly regarding the public libraries situation in Northern Ireland.

I’m sure many people were disappointed but hardly surprised at the news the funding request to renovate and restore the interior of the Central Library was turned down in accord with the Northern Ireland Assembly budget cuts. It recently had seen it’s exterior restored to it’s former glory at a cost of £1m, so the likelihood of a further £20m was slim if not to say unlikely. To be fair the situation in Northern Ireland isn’t as bad as what is happening in the rest of the UK, but it is my opinion that closure  and cutbacks in the Library should be resisted and opposed regardless of the numbers being quoted.

Currently we are waiting to hear about the proposed closure of 10 rural libraries, to many that may not seem like  much,especially considering earlier this year speculation had the figure set at 30.  Also some would argue if people are not using them, then prudent thinking in these austere times would be to close them, save the money and channel it into the remaining libraries. However anybody who is affected by the cuts, know this will not be the case. Libraries will be expected to perform to the same standard and maintain themselves without any extra money. Irene Knox the Chief Executive of Libraries NI said “We’re obviously disappointed, but we still believe that this building and the tremendous resources that are in it are very important not just to Belfast but to Northern Ireland as a whole. So we are continuing to pursue our plans looking at other possibilities, other potential sources of funding.”

There is a perceived general apathy towards the libraries, and this is what the Government in Westminster is using to defend their decisions. However in Northern Ireland we are faced with the unusual position that the official line is an admission that Library usage is on the rise. So obviously the official line from Libraries NI  needed to look at other areas to determine their cuts. So it become more about whether the libraries could deliver a 21st Century service. And it would seem that out of 99 branch libraries throughout Northern Ireland  44 were deemed viable, 21 were deemed viable but would need some refurbishment or newbuilds. Added with the 10 marked out as unviable, this comes to a grand total of 75, leaving a further 24 libraries that were evaluated but don’t seem to be showing up on the Official Report from the 17th February of this year.

Also concerns are being raised that the Dept of Arts & Leisure stipulation relating to the figure of  85% of the population should live within two miles of either fixed or mobile library provision. These concerns seemed to be focussed on the future of the library in Draperstown and it’s suspected closure and relocation to neighbouring Maghera, however it is claimed this will produce a figure of 100% living outside the 2 mile radius. However the official line is that the rural libraries are not being targeted as soft options.

The situation as it stands and Dr David Elliot Chairperson of Libraries NI is keen to make the point that no formal decision has been made yet, the process is continuing and it’s being actively encouraged to be an open process with as much feedback from the public as possible .Irene Knox claims they have listened and will keep listening, but ultimately she states “At the end of the day, the board will make those decisions”.

For some people the issue of  closure of the libraries is an emotive one, a vitally important part of modern society and particularly with regard to Northern Ireland. To quote the data.gov.uk site  “The services provided by public libraries are capable of giving positive outcomes for a wide variety of enquiries and purposes, including promoting community cohesion, education and well-being”. Something DCAL and Libraries NI need to keep at the forefront of their decision making process.





The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of  Voices for the Library

Swillington Library – Leeds: “Tell me this is not systematic, deliberate neglect”


“Tell me this is not systematic, deliberate neglect over a period of at LEAST ten years? No maintenance, no love. On a site that could not be expanded even if the prefab was replaced, or placed into community hands given it will fall apart in less than five years, where the next library on the bus route is being closed in an even greater scandal. And yet there’s a shiny new Tesco Express four times the size across the road. I’d force new Tesco branches to pay for new libraries in areas with inadequate provision to get planning permission. A CSR requirement. They paid money to the local playgroup in the old church next door when they opened two years ago, but not the greater community resource facing the store. Why is it people are accepting these sites are shit without thinking about how they got that way and how it wasn’t users’ fault?”

The above image and comment was received from a concerned library user in Leeds. We can understand their concern!