I know the political climate is not good for encouraging large new public initiatives, but the current problems facing our local, community libraries, with an estimated 500 facing closure this year as a result of government spending cuts, needs to be seriously addressed.
As today’s National Save Our Libraries day protest demonstrates, libraries are among the nations most beloved institutions, with a perhaps one of the strongest grassroots campaigns of any service threatened in this period of government cuts. And yet, a vast national programme of library closures is underway. By the end of this year it’s entirely possible that half the nations libraries will have been closed. A few years further out, with the libraries crippled beyond repair, we may find we lose them all as they become an ever softer target for cost cutters and privatisers. But, no one actually wants this to happen. Even The Sun is in favour of libraries. But no one quite knows what to do about them.
The irony of the library closures is that no part of our nation’s political spectrum is in favour of them (it would be a bit like being in favour of selling grannies or kicking puppies). Libraries have fallen between the cracks of our political system. Local authorities are being faced with the very literal choice between closing old peoples homes or closing libraries. They can hardly be blamed for caving in to the short term expedient of keeping elderly people from starving on the streets. National goverment has washed its hands of the situation. So the national provision of libraries is being destroyed, even while everyone applauds the value of the service.
So. Along with the campaign to save libraries, we need suggestions, or possibly even demands, for how they are saved. I suggest they should be along these lines:
1. A moratorium on library closures until…
2. …national review of library services…
3. …sets a national strategy for library provision.
There are two things to consider with this. The first is that the strategy must at the very least establish a central agency for libraries, even if its remit is largely focused on supporting local communities in developing their own libraries. The second is that libraries are in need of reform, and where it does not compromise the campaign to save them first, the need for reform needs to be part of the discussion.
And until those suggestions are met, SAVE LIBRARIES!