“If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom,” opined Neil Gaiman as he reminded us of our obligation to support libraries. With Local Elections now taking place across England in thousands of towns and villages, English citizens (and readers of Nothing in the Rulebook) now have a chance to fulfil that obligation, by voting for party candidates who have stressed support for libraries.
Now, if you didn’t need convincing that libraries are a fundamental necessity to supporting our culture and society, consider the words of famous writers, artists, politicians and even astronauts – who all, many moons ago now, wrote letters to schoolchildren on the value of our public libraries.
You may also consider the words of Ayub Khan, president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), who says: “Public libraries have transformed in recent years to become a true ‘hub’ at the heart of their communities. They offer opening hours to suit local needs, high-quality Internet and WiFi access, business and enterprise support, local information and digital skills along with a huge range of events and activities that add richness to the lives of local residents.”
After years of a Conservative government in the UK houses of parliament, funding for libraries has been repeatedly slashed – with local conservative councils often cutting funding completely. Indeed, almost 600 libraries have closed since the Conservatives came to national power in 2010.
So, what can be done?
At a national level, the only two political parties who have stressed a commitment to supporting local libraries are the Green Party and the Labour Party. Some local Lib-Dem candidates talk a good talk about saving libraries in their community; yet at a national level the party continues to doggedly believe in austerity and neoliberalism, which have led to the decline of libraries as such vital pieces of infrastructure and support for local communities.
The inverse is sometimes true of Labour – with some local councils, such as Lambeth, Lewisham and Sheffield, cutting councils despite national party policy to the contrary. Of course, these councils argue the cuts are a necessity, caused by crippling cuts to local authority budgets enforced by on high by the inept, cruel, and deluded Conservative national government.
What this all means in the immediate term is a need to vote for your local councillors based on their personal commitment to libraries in your area.
What it means for the longer-term is that pressure needs to be applied on a local and national political scale to ensure libraries across the UK no longer suffer the successive series of cuts, which will surely continue under a Tory government.
Yet, there is hope.
As Alan Wylie, writing in Open Democracy, explains:
“The good chance of a Corbyn led Labour government in the near future affords us an opportunity to influence policy which supports public libraries and the staff who work in them.
We need to get Labour to develop a national policy and then use it to whip these and other councils into line and commit to upholding and strengthening the statutory basis of public libraries. Then we stand a chance of reversing/halting the damage.”
There are a number of excellent campaign groups organising around our local libraries that you can also get involved with. These groups help lobby politicians on national and local levels to ensure continued support for these “ideal sanctuaries for books“.
For example, the ‘Speak up for Libraries’ campaign is organising to get MPs and councillors to commit to the following manifesto:
Give libraries a long-term future, with a vision for their future development and clear standards of service.
Enforce the commitment in law for local authorities to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. This commitment should also include digital, ICT and e-book services.
Acknowledge that libraries are important to individuals and communities – especially in times of hardship.
Enforce the duty that local authorities have to properly consult with communities to design services that meet their needs and aspirations.
Ensure that local authorities receive sufficient funding in order to deliver properly resourced and staffed library services.
Recognise that properly resourced library services contribute to the health and well-being of local communities and of society as a whole and therefore complement the work of other public services and of national government agendas.
Once you’ve voted; the obligation to support our libraries continues. Use the above manifesto to petition your councillors and MP yourself. And, of course, spread the word on social media!
A haiku for voting
Before you go, and as a treat for reading to the end of the article, we’ve written the following #Getoutandvote haiku, just for you. Enjoy!
Today: don’t forget,
Exercise your right to vote
Raise your voice for change