2015 rolls us towards one of the most potentially interesting General Elections that the UK has ever seen. At the present time the country is governed by a jumbled pairing of parties that no one actually voted in, all carrying the baggage of policies that didn’t come to pass, and stacking up a whole mess of broken promises.
All of this confusion has left most of us unsure of who to vote for. The lines between the parties have become increasingly blurred, and it is genuinely difficult to put a white paper between them. People deserve to understand the policies that are relevant to their lives and to their communities. We need access to information more than ever, and yet never has it been more convoluted and confusing. We need a way to access information and, once upon a time, this was simple thanks to the public library. I firmly believe that every community is best served by access to a well run and appropriately funded library service, however this service has never been more at risk.
Despite cross-party claims of support, and claims to be supporting a push for raising levels of national literacy and digital inclusion, there have never been more libraries at risk of closure.
As a follow-up to my post about what public libraries actually do, I attempted to gather together links to petitions and campaigns that are trying to save this essential aspect of our lives. It is incredibly sad just how many libraries are under threat. I was curious as to just how many libraries and regions were affected, and my research made tragic reading. As my list became longer and longer, it became apparent just how potentially catastrophic this all could be.
The removal of library services not only means the loss of something irreplaceable for all of our communities, but also represents a significant breakdown in the democratic process of local government. The campaigns in some of the regions might appear small, but that’s because the worst hit communities are often small, rural and poor. It is a shameful government that makes the most vulnerable and voiceless a target, but this has happened time and time again under this one.
The campaigns to protect libraries are not about protecting something antiquated and stuffy, or about saving a twee manifestation of upper middle-class ideals, this is about protecting a service that not only makes a positive difference to all members of the community but one that actively improves the quality of the lives of its users.
We have all read many articles about the importance of raising the levels of national literacy, of the need to ensure digital literacy for all, of the positive impact of reading on educational levels, of how we have more students than ever, and of the need for more open communication of information to the people of the UK. So why would anyone want to cut the most successful way of dealing with all of those issues? Why would the parties not want to support the only service in the community that can tackle all of these issues at the front-line? The Sieghart Report on public libraries highlighted the fact that 35% of people use their libraries; so why would a government cut something that is used by over a third of the population?
The answer is – because it’s easy. It is easier to cut something that people in power don’t understand than it is to cut other more high-profile (and potentially political-career damaging) areas. It is easy to cut something that is used by over a third of the population as long as most of those users are too young to vote, or too vulnerable to fight back. It’s easy to attack those who do not have a loud enough voice to be heard when they protest. It is easy to cut services that some people have a false image of, and it’s easier to cut services where people have less fight.
So let’s bring them that fight! It’s time to bring the noise! Stand up for what you deserve, for what everyone deserves; library run by qualified professionals.
It is worth noting that I have been informed that many staff working within the public library system have been told by their authorities that they are not allowed to become “politically involved” in the campaigns to protect their libraries. This is why it is so important for library users to make a stand. It is vital that people all over the country make a stand before these services are lost forever.
Sign the petitions, write letters, join campaigns in your regions, make a noise on social media, turn out for libraries and, when the election comes, vote for the parties who make a solid commitment to making a difference.
Follow CILIP ElectionWatch to stay informed about which parties are prepared to make a solid commitment to our communities, and you can see a list of key advocacy issues and campaigns here on their website. On social media please follow and use #CILIPElect and #vote4libraries
Speak Up For Libraries annual conference is held towards the end of the year and full write-ups and further information can be found by using the link above or follow @speakup4libs
You can start off by joining in the celebrations for National Libraries Day – and really bring the noise!
Don’t let this be another one of those issues where you’re left singing – Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
NB – if you work for a public library and have been advised to not get involved in campaigns, please feel free to post your stories anonymously in the comments here.
Written by Dawn Finch
Library and Literacy Consultant
Children’s author and librarian.
Those links again………
CILIP advocacy pages