Speaking for Lincolnshire Libraries petition, here’s campaigner Leah Warriner-Wood’s full speech, as presented to the full Lincolnshire County Council meeting:
Today, is Roald Dahl’s birthday. A good omen, perhaps? Speaking for one of his most famous characters, voracious reader Matilda, Roald Dahl said: “books introduced her to amazing people, who lived exciting lives, and so Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: you are not alone.”
I’m here to speak to you today with one body, but with thousands of voices. To say to the people of Lincolnshire: you are not alone.
I speak for the people of the past – who bequeathed to us a statutory library service, the people of the present – who benefit from that legacy, and the people of the future – who shouldn’t have to pay for our mistakes or inaction.
I don’t know what some of the councillors here think of the proposals to close the libraries in their wards, but I can tell you that not one part of Lincolnshire would be left un-touched by these proposals, and that there is not one single part of the county where people haven’t come forward to protest against them.
Our petition, presented to you here today, lists a range of demands by the signatories but we the people of Lincolnshire also request your consideration in greater detail than this. We ask for you to also consider the un-quantifiable human impact of the plans proposed by the Executive committee for libraries. One in four children in Lincolnshire is now born into poverty, yet the Executive’s ‘Library Needs Assessment’ report implies that over one in four of all Lincolnshire residents would also be beyond the reach, by public transport (which is considered the base minimum standard of accessibility in the needs assessment), of one of the few remaining statutorily operated libraries. In other words, under the proposals on the table, over one quarter of all Lincolnshire residents could become unable to reach a service to which they are legally entitled, in a time of growing poverty, when such free access to culture and education is most needed. As one fellow campaigner put it to me: “I am so proud that residents have stood up for libraries and what they represent: an escape from poverty, ignorance, loneliness and helplessness that’s close at hand, and has no admission fee. Libraries embody hope. This is why the outrage at these cuts is so strong and so widespread. They’re taking away hope.”
The figure I mentioned previously of one in four residents equates to around 200,000 people, so I ask you now: in what other context is failing 200,000 people acceptable? 200,000 people without food is a famine. 200,000 people displaced by flood or drought is a natural disaster. 200,000 refugees from war is a humanitarian crisis. Yet 200,000 people left without a minimum standard of access to a statutory service – a service pioneered in our very own county – is somehow acceptable — ‘collateral damage’ – despite figures in the public domain showing that huge savings could be made in Lincolnshire by administrating or managing the library service more efficiently.
Even if money does indeed talk, it doesn’t talk sense in this context. It has been claimed that there is a need to save £2million in the libraries budget, and that 18% of the population of Lincolnshire are active borrowers. Both of these figures have been disputed by protestors, but I use them today to illustrate a further statistic: the saving for which the Executive committee would turn the library service upside down amounts to just 4 pence per active borrower, per day, for a single year. If we suggest that the committee’s figures on library usage are conservative, to say the least, that figure would be even lower. On the other hand, the cost to the libraries budget of supporting each tier 3 library in a volunteer-led enterprise for the agreed period of four years would be around £1.1million, and as yet no mention has been made of the cost of the 170 or so redundancy settlements necessary, which must surely run into several hundred thousand pounds. What of the much-talked of savings then?
Many questions like this as yet remain unanswered, not least because of the consultation process itself, which is not fit for purpose, and was I understand rejected by the county council’s own internal scrutiny committee in such matters. The 5 minutes allotted to me here today, and even the time scheduled for your debate are sadly unequal to the task of answering these questions. We therefore respectfully suggest that, as the issue of library cuts is a county-wide issue, the council’s response should be equal to it. We suggest that the answering of lingering questions and the taking of decisions not be undertaken by the executive alone, and the handful of communities represented therein, but by the full council here present, as representatives of the full spectrum of Lincolnshire communities affected by the proposals.
Furthermore, we suggest that, as our campaigners have put aside any party-political affiliations to unite for their libraries, you make your residents’ voices heard above your own, or that of the whip. Today is your opportunity to be the shining beacon, and not the puckering candle flame. For your libraries. For your residents. And for hope.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
JOIN THE PROTEST MARCH 21st September, Facebook Event Page here (please join & invite your friends) https://www.facebook.com/events/271956276279072/
SIGN THE PETITION against the proposals and ask your friends to as well: https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/lincolnshire-county-council-cut-the-plans-to-shut-down-local-libraries-in-lincolnshire
COMPLETE THE COUNCIL’S QUESTIONNAIRE (online with this link or at your Library) BUT really, really make use of the ‘Other’ boxes to get your views across. You will not find a tick box labelled ‘no change’, unfortunately.http://apps.lincolnshire.gov.uk/snapsurveys/llc/lincolnshire_libraries_consultation.htm