NOTES FROM THE “SPEAK UP FOR LIBRARIES” NATIONAL LOBBY
by Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaigner MAURICE NAUTA
9th FEB 2016
- Organised by Speak up for Libraries in central London near the House of Commons, campaigners met to share news about what is happening to libraries across the country. It aimed to unite major campaigning organisations for the future of libraries, including The Library Campaign (TLC), Campaign for the Book, CILIP ( professional association for librarians), UNISON and Voices for the Library. Pauline (my wife) and I attended. This is our report.
- Registration was a chance to meet fellow campaigners. I spoke briefly to Laura Swaffield (TLC), Rosie Kirk ( colleague from Lincolnshire and Labour Councillor ), a Liberal Democrat Councillor from Leicestershire, who has campaigned on behalf of libraries in that county, and campaigners from Bromley ( Kent), Barnet and several other London boroughs. I also met Nick Poole ( CILIP chief) and Dawn Finch ( Librarian, author and CILIP President).
- The campaigners I spoke to were very positive, but realistic. There was growing concern about volunteer run libraries, rabid cuts by local authorities, and suspicion of organisations like Greenwich Leisure Ltd. Some had insinuated themselves onto “user boards”, others were just beginning to understand the magnitude of the fight ahead.
- I am in regular touch with Nick Poole, sharing with him letters sent to the Secretary of State and his Select Committee. He was very supportive of what I have sent urging John Whittingdale to use his powers to launch an inquiry into what has happened in Lincolnshire. He believed that the pressure on DCMS was building up, and that Ed Vaizey had been asked to sort things out forthwith.
- The hour meeting people flew by and we regret not speaking to more people. After an hour we were invited to take our seats to listen to the speakers assembled. They were mainly authors and all were interesting and inspirational in different ways. We were shown videos ( short-listed for the CILIP “Libraries Change Lives” award) all of which impressive. They included:
* a library app explaining for children the importance of libraries, featuring cartoons by children. Very amusing and excellent.
* arts activities held in St Helens’ libraries and aimed at people with mental/ physical ill-health.
*Supportive technology project in Portsmouth to assist the independence of older people and those with visual impairment. For example, it featured a group of people sharing an audio book within a library, listening to and enjoying the book together.
- Alan Gibbons ( author) acted as compere and was very forthright throughout. He has offered to meet with Ed Vaizey anytime, anywhere to debate the importance of libraries in front of a public audience. I would buy ringside seats to witness that. He believes that what the Conservative government wants is one central library with volunteer satellite libraries everywhere. He called it a “betrayal of the people”.
- Cathy Cassidy ( author) questioned whether there would be free access to libraries in the future, because of drastically reduced opening hours, libraries taken out of council control and others already closed for good. She declared it “a national scandal”. She reported that young people see the injustice and don’t understand why it is happening. She described libraries as “a safe haven, a refuge, and escape, and a gateway to other worlds.” She referred to her use of libraries as a young person as “ my escape from bullies or a sad day” and that she would have been “lost without a library”. She decried the lack of joined up government thinking, citing the encouragement of reading while withdrawing free access to books. Cathy quoted a young person called Kate saying “ Librarians, please remember how much you mean to us. When we walk through the library door we are home.”
- Philip Ardagh based what he said on the need for local councils to provide easy and safe access to libraries.
- Dawn Finch ( librarian, author and CILIP President) spoke of her own experience of libraries, where staff “were there to support me… and pushed me beyond my expectations”. She quoted 260 million visits per year to libraries, with more use in poorer areas than there used to be. She asked “ who would those people be without their libraries and professional support”?
- Eve Ainsworth said that libraries have been crucial to her development as an author. She has a dream that “I will have my own shelf of books in a library”.
- George Hamilton, young person. He is Chef Librarian at his primary school. He pointed out that any suggestions to introduce a library card for every child is useless when libraries are closing, and was adamant that children’s reading skills would not improve without libraries. Well done George.
- Alan Wylie described how the heart and soul of the service was being torn away, and that we need to be “ radical and defiant to stop this happening”.
- Jake Arnott, quoting someone else, said “People have made too much of Philip Larkins’ poetry and not enough of his librarianship”. He thinks it is a miraculous idea to have access to books which you can take away.”He also spoke about the crucial part libraries play in prisons in the opportunities they can open up for people.
Pauline and I had an appointment with our local (Conservative) M.P. Sir Edward Leigh at 1.15pm. in the Central Lobby of the House of Commons. We were given instructions by the organisers of this event and told we would need to be at the security point in good time, as there were often queues.
In fact, we got through quite quickly and our MP met us on time. He has been notably anti our Council’s proposals to give libraries over to more than 30 communities to run with volunteers, or else close them. He calls it a nonsense. He has also met with senior councillors alongside Tim Coates to argue about how bureaucrats should be fired before books are sacrificed.
He offered his continued support and agreed to back a recent letter I sent to the Leader of the Council suggesting that the enormous cuts imposed on the County Council by government could only be met by working much more closely with other neighbouring authorities to share management and support services, whilst continuing to run frontline services.
I explained that I was writing regularly to the Secretary of State, and have been doing so for nearly 3 years mostly without replies let alone action. Edward Leigh blamed this on the bureaucrats (DCMS), but asked that I keep him informed. Finally, as had to return to Committee, I gave him a copy of the “Speak up for Libraries Checklist of Key Lobby Messages”, including the Early Day Motion 1025 which he will consider signing.
Summary of the day.
In many ways it was a sad day hearing about the dreams of so many people destroyed needlessly, in my opinion. We are a long way down the line here in Lincolnshire, but I shall pass on these notes to colleagues and friends here in the hope that they see they do not stand alone, and that support to fight in still exists. Nor am I naive enough to believe that my MP is going to do anything to pull things back to where they were. Pauline and I will continue to continue put pressure on the Secretary of State and his cohorts so that he realises what a disaster he is presiding over.
Maurice and Pauline Nauta
Maurice Nauta, senior manager in the library service and several other frontline services in the county, from 1988 to 2002. Click this link to read his many letters to the Secretary of State.