It’s February now, but the song remains the same—the attack on our national library services, the lunacy of short-term financial decisions being taken without thought to the long-term cultural consequences.
Has anything changed since December? Actually yes—quite a lot. Although the situation is perilous still, we have seen a staggering, inspiring, imaginative upsurge of local protest, a nationwide refusal to lie back and allow the politicians to do their worst. January was a busy month. In the Lord Louis library on the Isle of Wight, readers lined up to withdraw their full quotas of books a-piece, leaving the shelves bare.
In Somerset, film-maker Ken Kutsch gathered writers and broadcasters—Maureen Duffy, Romesh Gunesekera, Maggie Gee, John Bird, Jon Snow, Julian Fellowes, Alan Bennett among them—to protest against the savagery of the cuts. In Oxford, Philip Pullman delivered a fighting speech to a Town Hall packed to the rafters—and more than 20,000 others read the speech online.
The children’s novelist Alan Gibbons, founder of the Campaign for the Book, called a day of action on 5th February, a celebration of reading or, as it was billed in Oxfordshire, facing some of the worst cuts, “A Carnival of Resistance”. And though possibly inappropriate to sing the praises of The Bookseller—in, er, a column in The Bookseller—the fight for libraries campaign and blogs have been invaluable in giving publicity—the life-blood of any campaign—as well as providing a comprehensive digest of action planned and action delivered. Facts, figures and everything in between.
But, for all that has been achieved, the next few weeks are the most crucial. During February, most LEA consultation periods come to an end and council budgets for the year ahead will be finalised. The Libraries Minister Ed Vaizey rejected calls for a national library enquiry, but has said he will look at each potential closure on a case-by-case basis if required to do so.
This is the time to write to the DCMS or to the local council. And the more of us who join marches, strength in visible numbers, the more likely is it that other councils will join those of the Wirral, Portsmouth and Somerset in reconsidering or revising their proposals for cuts to library and mobile services. UK libraries are the envy of the world. We won’t let them go without a fight.
In March, I’m one of those addressing the All-Party Publishing Group at the House of Commons. It would be wonderful to be able to report that, together, we had made the politicians listen. To say that all the campaigning, filming, writing and speaking had made a substantial difference.