The legendary broadcast journalist, Walter Cronkite, who was famously known as the “most trusted man in America” in his post-war heyday, was once quoted as declaring that “whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation”.
Sadly, it would appear that Mr Cronkite’s philosophy is not shared by the politicians who run Lincolnshire County Council. Following elections in May which changed the political make-up of the council, if not the actual policies, the new coalition of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and ‘independents’ recently announced plans to either close or dramatically cut back huge swathes of our public library services across the county.
Libraries provide huge benefits to our society. They give people from all walks of life and backgrounds the chance to educate themselves by opening the door to a world of knowledge and culture that would otherwise be closed to many. They have an important democratic function as a source of valuable information and give citizens access to the knowledge and the means to hold those in positions of authority to account.
The importance of the role that libraries play in providing free internet access is growing as more Government services are moved online, for example online applications for benefits. With savage irony, some public services in Lincolnshire such as DVLA and HMRC offices are being withdrawn under the pretext that people are accessing the services online instead of face-to-face. With the closure of their local library, access to free internet for many people will also be cut. Libraries are also one of the last venues that provide space for local community groups to meet together, with funding cuts causing many community centres to close in recent years.
The rationale for these cuts is that the current library service is “inefficient” and that the proposed closures would save the County Council £2 million. These savings are dwarfed by the billions of pounds in bonuses that are paid out each year by banks and financial companies in the City of London. The entire cuts programme of this Government would be unnecessary if action was taken to tackle widespread tax avoidance and evasion, and to redistribute some of the hundreds of billions of pounds currently hoarded by the richest 1,000 people in Britain.
The origins of the economic crisis have been distorted by politicians from all the main parties, generally aided by the media. Despite a barrage of propaganda, a quarter of those polled say that the cuts are unnecessary. Public spending only leapt considerably in 2008 when several major banks had to be bailed out after their insatiable hunger for ever-increasing profits caused a crash. However, if you listened to those in power you would never guess that this was the cause of our current woes.
The austerity programme that has followed the crisis represents a rolling back of the remaining social gains of working-class people. The NHS, comprehensive education, a public library service were all won through the tireless campaigning of working-class people, and all are currently under threat. We owe it to our fore-fathers to stand up and challenge these cuts every step of the way.
It’s inspiring to see local communities and trade unionists in cities, towns and villages across Lincolnshire respond swiftly to these proposed cuts by organising public meetings and speaking out in opposition. The best way to fight these cuts is to build a mass campaign rooted in the communities working alongside our redundancy-threatened library staff to defend the services that they deliver as professionals, and to oppose their replacement with volunteers.
I would like to finish with an appeal on behalf of Lincoln & District TUC to readers of the Lincolnshire Echo to support the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign group and the UNISON Lincolnshire County Council branch in opposing all cuts and closures of library services in the county. The 16th century philosopher Sir Francis Bacon famously said that “knowledge is power”. It’s time to use our power as working-class people to defend the knowledge provided by our much-loved libraries.