Today has been a day of protest at planned library closures. I would have quite liked to join in but firstly, none of our local libraries are at risk (thank goodness – it’s a 10 mile round-trip as it is) and I have been quite busy today (more on that tomorrow).
I thought it was fantastic, hearing about people who took out their maximum allowance, clearing the shelves in their local library. I applaud those who ran read-ins and who stood up to make sure the local councillors know the strength of their feelings about their local libraries. One thing you must remember is that all these cuts are due to central government cuts, yes, but the specific details are down to your local councils. They are the ones deciding which services stay, and which go. These same people need the support of you to get re-elected so they can’t afford to annoy too many people too much.
One councillor described it as a decision between an old people’s home or a library. Simple, then. Who would debate that choice? Unfortunately life isn’t that simple. If the libraries have survived for decades, what has crept up and replaced them in importance? In the years when real spending increased year on year, what did it get spent on? I suspect that there are many form filling, paper pushing, box ticking, people watching roles that could be got rid of without any discernible reduction in service levels. That wouldn’t be easy though, would it? You would have to find out what every council employee did, and how much that impacted front line services. You would have to check every form that needed filling in and ask ‘Why?’ for every question, and (harder) ‘How can it be made simpler?’. Every hour spent in meetings, every unnecessary piece of paper, every purchasing decision needs to be looked at.
It’s easier, isn’t it, just to close a library or two. After all, what good do they do? You can make a few librarians redundant, sell off or stop leasing the buildings and bingo! there’s your saving. Then, the children whose parents don’t buy them books? Not your problem. The person on benefits who can’t afford broadband and now has nowhere to look for work online? Not your problem. The families of kids who get through 20 books a week? Not your problem. I could go on.
What worries me most, though, is that in most political circles books seem to be singularly unimportant. The ways we have of understanding new points of view, of escaping into different worlds, of relaxing and de-stressing, and of experiencing events our lives have never come near, all unimportant. Knowledge. That is what is contained in those libraries, free, accessible knowledge. Anyone who thinks that is unimportant possibly shouldn’t be in charge.