Popular, empowering and free – that’s why the Tories hate libraries
The public library service is in crisis. The government’s slash-and-burn approach means a 28 percent cut in spending on them.
Libraries are one of the first targets for the axe, with cuts being “front‑loaded” in the first year.
Already funding is being withdrawn from around 400 libraries, threatening them with closure. Only half of local authorities had reported at the time of writing, so the final figure could be 800 or even more.
In areas like Suffolk, Gloucestershire, Doncaster, Oxfordshire, Lewisham, Barnet, and many more, this could mean the closure of around half the branch libraries. The Isle of Wight could end up with just two.
At least 1,000 library workers are set to lose their jobs. Opening hours are also being cut, which is disastrous.
When local communities are unsure when their library will be open they stay away, leading to a spiral of decline.
Book funds are being slashed by 75 percent in Nottinghamshire.
All of this is happening as Britain’s position in international reading league tables has dropped from 7th to 25th in a decade.
The report from which these findings come observed that British teenagers are less likely to read for pleasure than those in high ranking countries like Finland.
Just a year ago culture minister Ed Vaizey was thundering that Labour was destroying the service. Now he is presiding over the worst cuts in its history.
They have stirred up huge opposition with demonstrations, petitions, meetings and read-ins. One meeting in Somerset drew 10 percent of the local population!
It is not difficult to see why people in these areas are so attached to their libraries. They don’t just provide free book-lending.
They provide access to computers for people who don’t have them at home. They provide expert staff who help people. In its true sense, the library is a focal point for the community.
At its best the library gives ordinary men and women the access to information and culture.
This allows them to challenge their alleged betters’ view of the world and stranglehold over its levers of power. Books are weapons. Information is power.
Agitation for publicly funded libraries free at the point of use has been central to trade union, socialist, democratic and radical thought since the birth of the working class.
The origins of the public library service lie in the first piece of legislation, the 1850 Public Libraries Act.
The main instigators of the act were radical Liberal MPs William Ewart and Joseph Brotherton, and the Chartist Edward Edwards. He became the first librarian of Manchester Free Libraries.
The struggle to establish free public libraries was part of the growing clamour for better conditions towards the end of the 19th century.
It belongs to the same demand for reform that led to universal education, school meals and municipal utilities.
Some employers and politicians realised the truth of Lord Hailsham’s judgement after the Second World War that, “If you don’t give the masses social reform they will give you social revolution.”
Trade unionists and socialists saw libraries as part of working class “self‑improvement.”
Many wealthy philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie saw them as a way of making working people more respectable—and less likely to go to the pub, strike or riot.
By 1926 most of the population had some form of library access.
But the institution of the modern British library was finally secured by the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.
The 1960s were the golden decade for libraries. Spending grew by half. Staff numbers grew 40 percent.
This came to a shuddering halt when Margaret Thatcher took office. Councils started to erode library provision and by the 1990s a parliamentary committee judged it a “service in crisis”.
New Labour did nothing to restore its fortunes. We now face a fight for the very future of the public library, particularly local branches.
Socialists and trade unionists should be at the forefront of local activities, supporting their community’s right to a free, universal library service.
In the words of Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Alan is speaking at the People’s Convention on Saturday 12th February click here for details
This article was first printed in Socialist Worker
Saturday 5th February is Save Our Libraries Day. There is action around the country. If you have library action you would like listed here please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Woodcote library 10.a.m
Author: Mary Hooper
Littlemore library 10am
Author Sally Nicholls
Labour Cllr John Tanner
TU speaker TBC
Blackbird Leys library 11am
Author: Mark Haddon
Author: Jane Bingham
Richard Stevens Labour Cllr
David Williams Green Cllr
TU speaker TBC
Barry Lovejoy – Oxfordshire Anti Cuts Alliance
Summertown library 11am
Illustrator: Korky Paul
Author: Renee Holler-Halliday
Author: Malcolm Pryce
Author: Merryn Williams
Dana Wentworth – Oxforshire Anti Cuts Alliance
Botley library: 11.30am
Author: Julia Golding
Colin Cook Labour Cllr
Larry Sanders Green Cllr
Neil Davis – Oxfordshire Anti Cuts Alliance
Central library: 12 noon
Author: Philip Pullman
Author: Carole Angier
Author: Jonathan Neale
John Tanner Labour Cllr
Nuala Young Green Cllr
TU: Gawain Little – President O&DTUC
Bampton library 10 am
Author: Mary Hoffman
Charlbury library 12 noon
Author: Veronica Stallwood
Author: Geoffrey Strachan
11am Saturday 5th February – Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield
Show your support for Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information service, and libraries across the country, by turning up at Sheffield Central Library on Surrey Street for the National Day of Action for Libraries and take part in a mass Shhh-In.
1. Finger to lips.
2. At 11am say Shhhhh!
3. Finish off with three cheers for the library!
4. Finally borrow lots of books – lets empty those shelves. You’re allowed up to 15 out on your library card, so bring a big bag!
Somerset We Love Libraries video here
Other areas – information from Coalition of Resistance here
- Bawtry: Doncaster Rd, Bawtry,Doncaster,South Yorkshire,DN10 6NE
- Rossington: McConnel Cr, Doncaster DN11 0PL
- Moorends: Marshland Rd, Moorends, Doncaster, West Yorkshire DN8 4S
31st Jan Somerset: Ansford school: School library joining in the Save Somerset Libraries campaign. As part of this we have decided to have a read-in involving two year groups of the school on Monday 31st January. We intend to invite the local newspaper along and hope this will aid the campaign.
Cambridge: Arbury Court Library in Cambridge, Read-In event on February 5 (from 2-3pm).
Croydon: Norbury Library is hosting a “read-in” organised by your residents’ associations to support the love of our library. Part of a national campaign to support libraries, we are encouraging people to come and read. Actor Ralph Ineson (Harry Potter, The Office and Waterloo road) is giving a reading at 12 noon.
Ralph Ineson Reading: 12 noon
Isle of Wight
Sandown Library on the Isle of Wight is holding a “Read-in” on Saturday 5th February. 4 local authors will be supporting the event; M J Trow, Wendy K Harris, Diana Kimpton and Gay Baldwin.
Events planned so far:
- Churchdown Library
Library fun day (10:00 – 4:00).
With story-time, fancy dress and a ‘craft corner’, plus novelist and playwright Alice Jolly will be holding a creative writing workshop for older teens and adults (time TBC).
- Charlton Kings Library (with some activities to take place in the Stanton Room next door)
‘Love your library’ (10:00 – 4:00)
Activities will include badge-making, a library treasure hunt, a library quiz for older children and adults, the creation of a memory scroll, and a free prize draw. At 12:30 a celebration ‘cut the cake not the library’ cake will be shared in the Stanton Room, and from 2:00 published novelist Jane Bailey will be holding a creative writing class for those who dream of putting pen to paper.
- Cheltenham Library
Poetry day (10:30 start)
All are welcome to come along and have a go at writing their own poems, or take part in a read-athon of their own work or favourite pieces of poetry/prose. Encouragement will be on hand from local poets, who will also be performing their own work.
- Cinderford Library
‘Kids for Forest Libraries’ (1:00 – 3:00)
Cinderford will receive a visit from children’s author John Dougherty as part of the ‘flying authors’ tour (estimated landing time – 1:15). At 2:00 there will be the opportunity for kids to ‘Hear a Story and Learn to Draw’ with acclaimed children’s author and illustrator Shoo Rayner.
- Hesters Way Library
Library fun day (10:30 start)
At 10:30, Hannah Shaw, the author and illustrator of popular children’s books ‘Evil Weasel’ and ‘Erroll’ will be holding a story and poster workshop for kids of all ages, plus we will be receiving a visit from children’s author John Dougherty as part of the ‘flying authors’ tour (estimated landing time – 11:50).
- Lydney Library
‘Love Lydney Library’ (10:30 – 2:00)
Story-time sessions will start at 10:30 and 12:00, and there will be the chance to create a Chinese New Year-themed mask and add your brushstrokes to a ‘Love Lydney Library’ mural.
- Mitcheldean Library
‘Kids for Forest Libraries’ (11:00 – 1:00)
At 11:00 there will be the opportunity for kids to ‘Hear a Story and Learn to Draw’ with acclaimed children’s author and illustrator Shoo Rayner, plus we will receive a visit from children’s author John Dougherty as part of the ‘flying authors’ tour (estimated landing time – 12:45).
- Moreton-in-Marsh Library
Read-in (12:00 – 2:00)
All ages welcome, and with a free family storytelling performance by Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers.
- Stroud Library
Read-in (from 1:00)
All ages welcome. We will be joined by authors Jamila Gavin and Alice Jolly, and at 2:00 Hannah Shaw, the author and illustrator of popular children’s books ‘Evil Weasel’ and ‘Erroll’ will be holding a story workshop for kids of all ages
The ‘Flying Authors’
- John Dougherty, ‘I Love Libraries’ tour
As part of this day of celebration, author of the popular ‘Zeus’ and ‘Jack Slater Monster Investigator’ children’s books series, John Dougherty, will be attempting a mini-marathon ‘I Love Libraries’ tour. He’ll be visiting as many Gloucestershire libraries as he can in a single day, and bringing with him his bag of books and his trusty guitar. There’ll be laughs, readings, music, maybe even poetry, and a few words about why libraries are so important – all in under 20 minutes per visit! Come and support him, and your local library!John’s itinerary (times are approximate):
- Minchinhampton Library – 9:30
- Tuffley Library – 10:15
- Matson Library – 10:45
- Brockworth Library – 11:15
- Hesters Way Library – 11:50
- Micheldean Library – 12:45
- Cinderford Library – 1:15
- Lydney Library – 1:55
- Hucclecote Library – 3:15
Check http://foclibrary.wordpress.com/ for information.
- Barnet: Between 10:30 and 12:30 there will be a stall outside The Broadwalk Shopping Centre, Edgware promoting the Save Barnet Libraries Campaign, Unsion’s Love Your Libraries Campaign and The Campaign for the Book.
- Battersea: Roman mysteries author Caroline Lawrence will be doing a Read-In at York Gardens Library in Battersea on Feb 5 along with other local authors. Do please come along from 1.00 -3.00pm! Other authors attending this Read-In so far are : Sophie Bennett and Nadifa Mohamed!
- Brixton: Friends of the Tate Library, Brixton, London will joining in with the day and will be collecting signatures and testimonials in support of Lambeth Libraries on the 5th Feb.
- Haringey Read in: Nine authors are going to be reading in nine Haringey libraries on Feb 5th
- Kensal Rise Library in Brent will be holding a Read In on Sat 5th February. We will be having readings for children, a children’s entertainer, Quizzes Balloons etc Hoping to raise awareness of the benefits of our library and of the many libraries threatened with closure nationally.
- Lewisham :
11.30-1pm at the following libraries:
- Crofton Park
- New Cross
- Grove Park
Sly and Reggie are performing to help and spice up the Lewisham read-ins. They’ve even composed a song especially for use by libraries campaigners! And a plus is, they reckon they can attend all five participating libraries. Attendance at New Cross is already confirmed.
Merseyside: Librarise campaigners to join Merseyside March Against the Cuts
Saturday, 5th FebruaryAssemble Exchange Flags (Back of Liverpool Town Hall) 11am
Speakers include Tony Benn
Stony Stratford Library will be joining in and organising a read-in on 5th February from 11am until Midday. Best selling author (and Milton Keynes resident) Carole Matthews is coming to open the event, also local writer Mark Neil writing and reading out a poem. The Read in will be aiming at children there will be several story sessions plus cakes/biscuits and juice for refreshment.
Woburn Sands 10.30 to 12.30, read-in at Woburn Sands Library, which is threatened with closure by Milton Keynes Council along with Stony Stratford Library. We’ve already had over 1000 signatures against the proposal to close the library, and we’re also planning to drop letters, leaflets and petitions around village on Saturday 29 January, encouraging as many people as possible to write to the Council, and to respond to the Budget Consultation for Milton Keynes which includes the proposed library closures and closes on 4 February.
Our Facebook page is here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Woburn-Sands-Library/186381664719172
Northamptonshire: Read-In at Roade Library in Northamptonshire from 10.30 to 1.30 on Saturday 05 February.
Bentham Library in North Yorkshire on Saturday 5th February 2011. Local people are planning to have people read passages from their favourite books or poems through the morning. They are contacting the school and are hoping to have children dressed as their favourite storybook characters and also do some reading.They are inviting national writers to contribute if possible.They are contacting local and national media about this proposed closure.If Bentham closes, the nearest Library would be 12 miles away and there is no public transport to get there.
Notts: Read in: 11am Beeston Library. More info on Notts SOS site
- North Leigh library, Oxfordshire from 10am to noon
- Blackbird Leys Library, Oxford, 11am
- Botley, Oxford. 11.30 am.
- Central Library, Oxford. 12 noon.
Shepton Mallet and Glastonbury, Somerset, will both be doing a Love Our Library Day on the 5th Feb. That will be followed by a meeting to which all Somerset Campaigners are invited to a meeting to review the progress of the campaign, a screening of Independent film-makers Garfiled Kennedy, Ken Kutsch and Kevin Redpaths film and a social.