Yesterday, yet another library in my Borough, the London Borough of Lambeth, was closed. Parents and toddlers coming for their weekly story-telling afternoon were turned away, doors were padlocked to keep both staff and customers out, shelves were cleared and removal vans were sent in to remove both furniture and assets. Today I am seeing pictures of packing crates in empty rooms and uniformed security guards patrolling the premises and hearing tragic tales of other local libraries nationwide being striped of their staff, their stock and their identity.
What is it about Libraries, their history, their function, their unique position in society, their unquestionable importance, that my local Council, and indeed, other Councils don’t seem to understand? Libraries were set up to be free, public repositories of knowledge not, as Lambeth seems to think, a simple bookshelf in a church hall, surgery or gym which is what they are proposing that we should have. This wanton destruction of our precious facilities, our heritage, our children and grandchildren’s futures has to stop now, before it’s too late and the situation cannot be reversed.
The heart is being ripped out of our communities and it can’t be allowed to continue.
According to figures I have seen in the last couple of days regarding council spending, I understand that during the last financial year over £13million of our Council Tax in my area was spent on ‘Corporate Office Accommodation’, whatever that might be, whilst only a miserly £57,000 was invested in library provision Boroughwide. £57,000 invested in one of the greatest information resources we have in the area. £57,000 invested in our young people’s future. In a Borough with a total population of around 316,000 people that amounts to just £5.58 for each man, woman and child. Not even the price of your average cut-price paperback.
Well, forgive me, but that just doesn’t seem right.
I pay my taxes for services and facilities that will benefit everyone not just a select coterie at the top. Services that will benefit, not just me, but my children, my future grandchildren, my neighbours, my neighbours’ children and grandchildren and my entire community. I don’t pay my taxes for unused empty buildings and city centre office blocks. I want value for the many for my money, not perks for the few but that’s not what I’m getting.
And I can look at what’s happening from a different angle, through different eyes. I am not just a local resident and taxpayer, I am also a trained librarian so I can look at what is happening as a qualified professional, not just as a vociferous and angry service user. I have worked in public libraries, school libraries, university libraries and specialist libraries within national and multinational businesses and corporations.
When I studied for my BA(Hons) in Librarianship in the 1980s, I learnt about the beauty of both language and literature, the wonder of local and national history, the importance of all knowledge and I was taught everything I needed to know about high quality information provision for all. I learnt about storing, guarding, protecting and sharing information and helping others to access that information whenever they needed to. I was not taught how to pack it away and put it into storage, hidden from sight, which is what seems to be happening, not just in Lambeth, but throughout the country.
I’m pretty sure we were taught that what local communities wanted and needed and cherished was unfettered access to books and computers and information and space to study with properly qualified, fully committed, professional library staff who knew the local area and what other facilities were available for people to use should they want to. We were not taught to value corporate offices we were unlikely to ever use or see. We were trained to become Library staff who were prepared to invest time and effort in listening to our customer’s questions, finding the answers to those questions and showing people how to do their own research if they wanted to know more. I’m pretty certain we weren’t taught that what local communities wanted most for their money were posh offices with comfy chairs and shiny desks for transient local councillors and overpaid council executives.
How much longer will both Lambeth Council and other Councils continue to forget that local libraries are a valuable resource for everyone, maybe even the most valuable of all resources for so many people within the area?
Residents have been investing in their libraries for decades so please, don’t close them and take them from us. We have needed them in the past, we still need them now and we will continue to need them long into the future.
Don’t take away one of the greatest assets we all have. There must be other, less painful ways to save money. Leave us our libraries and try something else.