A few months ago I heard Gloucestershire County Council had slashed the public libraries book budget by 40 %. This was even BEFORE the government spending review had been announced. I suspected worse was to come. As a public library user this concerned me. What concerned me more is that when I searched I could not find one library user group in Gloucestershire and I wondered who would speak out for the libraries when the second, larger axe fell? no one, that is who. So I did something about it. I and three of my friends decided we would set up a Friends of Cheltenham Library group so that we could give library users a voice. Cheltenham Library is our local library. We wanted to speak for the whole of the library service but felt we might be too small so we focused on Cheltenham with intentions to scrutinise any policies that affected the library service as a whole. The group has grown. People came from all around. Drastic cuts were announced last week for our public library services. Gloucestershire County Council intend to cut libraries by 43%, Yes 43%! and they say they will close 11 libraries if they are not taken over by volunteers. Many of these libraries at threat are in the poorest areas. I do not want to go into the ins-and-outs of the councils plans here. You just have to look at them for few minutes to see how ridiculous and extreme they are. If you need any more convincing take a look at a letter we received from 5 senior former Gloucestershire County Council Library staff here. Council Leader Hawthorne and the Mr Vaisey should have seen these letters by now also.
Recently we were told that other people in the county wanted to come to our group but our name made them feel that it was not a group for them as we were Cheltenham focused and so we changed the group to Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries – people have since flocked in. They have nowhere else to turn.
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries took part in a protest rally today with hundreds of other people protesting against brutal public sector cuts. A young lady who I had never met before approached me and said “My dad says your campaign website is great and everything but he says that maybe you should not say on it that you are a librarian.” She is the third person to have individually advised me to stop telling the press that I am a librarian as it may seem as if I am running this group in self-interest. Well let me tell you something I AM A LIBRARIAN AND I AM PROUD, proud to be speaking up for libraries, library users and public library staff. In all three incidences I heard myself saying apologetically “But I am an academic librarian not a public librarian. If public libraries die, I still have my job”
I told her that it does not even say on the website that I am a librarian, the newspaper reporting on our group did though, maybe her dad saw it there? I told the reporter I am an academic librarian but they failed to report that. Since I got home I have been thinking on this and getting rather cross. Even if the website did say I am a librarian why shouldn’t it? I have decided that I AM NOT going to take this any more. I am not going to apologise and this is why…..
In a Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries meeting last week we all took turns to say who we were and why we were at the meeting. There was a lady who was a carer – she told us she looks after vulnerable adults and that libraries are their lifeline. She takes them to the library several times a week and she does not know what she will do if the library closes. Her library is one of the ones that have been threatened with closure. Another lady works with an organisation that supports the elderly. She also fears what will happen when their library service goes, again it is a lifeline for these elderly people. A pensioner told us how he had been a lifelong library user and would be lost if the libraries were closed now. He felt so strongly about this that he offered to drive some of our members around the county to meet with other library users to try to build a network and give them a voice. A retired couple came and said they had never felt as angry as they do at the threat to their libraries. The protest we went to today was the first protest they had been to. They felt they had to do something. A young man in his early 20’s told us how strongly he felt about the destruction of our libraries. A library assistant told us as she blinked away tears that a few weeks ago a mother and her little boy, who did not have much money, came into the library. The little boy had chosen to go to the library to get a book instead of going to the cinema. His mother has since been back to the library to thank them and tell them how much her sons literacy has improved since getting hooked on books. The library assistant thinks children are going to have such opportunities taken from them if libraries close. Other Library staff in attendance told us how worried they were about the future of the vulnerable people in the communities they served if libraries were to close. They were not thinking of themselves they were thinking of others. It was upsetting, it was stark, it was moving it was inspiring. This is what I am fighting for, this is why I am spending all of my spare time standing up for something I believe in and I will not apologise for it. Why is it considered so wrong for a person to speak out for their profession? I think we provide a vital service. Would people rather I sat around and waited for people who do not understand or care for the role, ethics and values of libraries to step in? because if they are then wave bye-bye to libraries. Wave good-bye to free unbiased access to information.
I often wonder why we find ourselves in the situation we are in now and I am beginning to think it is in large part due to the gagging of librarians but also due to the complicity of librarians. Why do we let this happen? Speak out, stand up and shout about how great we are and how great libraries are because we have people depending on us and I have found out in the last few weeks just how important we are to people. Many people have thanked me for setting up the group as they feel they now have somewhere to turn. We are all working together for a common goal. We feel like we can make a difference. That is all. rant over.
I wonder who that young lady and her dad were??