Because of the timing of the Speak up for Libraries Rally in London, the Library Cat column this month comes to you from the blog rather than the magazine.
One of the first people I met when I arrived was Mar Dixon, who became an unwitting campaign leader in January last year after tweeting "Libraries are important because ... [fill in your answer & RT] #savelibraries." This casual tweet was retweeted by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman and eventually trended worldwide.
Her knack for the timely tweet continued last October, when her suggestion for a rally in support of libraries coincided with a proposal arising from the Campaign for the Library Conference. And so Speak Up For Libraries was born.
Today’s rally was supported by Unison, the Women’s Institute, Voices for the Library, CILIP, the Library Campaign, Booktrust, the Reading Agency, and many individual library campaigns. The Campaign for the Book’s Alan Gibbons opened procedings with a ‘half-term report’ on Edward Vaisey, aged 43 ¾ . Gibbons’ verdict was received with much laughter by an audience who had just watched a film of the Libraries’ Minister giving evidence to the parliamentary select committee:
Speaker after speaker presented their own personal take on why the minister’s indifference to the fate of libraries is plain wrong-headed.
- English – has problem with the meanings of some words, particularly ‘comprehensive’ and ‘efficient’. Appears to think ‘library’ is synonymous with a phone box full of books
- Maths – statistics are a particular weakness
- Science – little grasp of the concept of a fair test
- Attendance – goes missing when asked to perform
Author Kate Mosse asked what would happen to the writers of tomorrow if anyone from children to the elderly could not look round at books on shelves and think – why not me? “We need more people to write stories – not fewer.”
Children’s author, Philip Ardagh, reminded us that we are losing post offices and losing pubs, “so let’s not lose libraries as well.”
Ruth Bond from the WI warned that the issue was not all about closures. “Where the buildings are safe, then services (staff, opening hours, book funds) may still be eroded.”
Dave Prentis of Unison quoted figures from their new report into libraries which show that more people use libraries each week than attend Premier Football League games or go to the cinema.
James Dolan of CILIP told us that in this financial year alone two thousand library staff have been lost and three thousand opening hours per week have been cut from libraries around the country.
But as Alan Gibbons reminded us, a protest must be about Roses as well as Bread. Amidst all the serious speeches, two musicians filled the hall with their protest songs. The lead singer from Doyle and the Fourfathers sang their song, ‘Welcome to Austerity’. One Man and His Beard belted out ‘We Need Libraries.’
Dan Jarvis, Shadow Library Minister, came up with what was perhaps the soundbite of the day – comparing Ed Vaisey to Dr Beeching, who in the 1960s presided over the closure of vast sections of the railway network.
Ian Anstice, librarian and author of the highly influential Public Library News blog, told us of the library users who tell him that they don’t know what they would do without the library. “I know what they’d do. They’d never get out. They’d never meet anyone… I’m a librarian and I’ll never be shushed!”
Many speakers reminded us that when libraries close it is the most vulnerable sections of society that suffer – children, the elderly, those on the lowest incomes.
And if all that did not show the breadth of support enjoyed by libraries, as people prepared for the move across the road to lobby Members of Parliament, a small group bearing pink balloons gathered on the pavement outside. ‘Mills & Boon Loves Libraries’ read the placards.
*Slogan of the Speak Up For Libraries Campaign