News

Almond speaks out as Newcastle library closures announced

Newcastle City Council has announced plans to close 10 of its 18 libraries as it looks to make savings of £90m over the next three years.

The announcement was made as campaigners gathered together in Grainger Street in the city last night (20th November) and declared their intention to fight the plans.

Author Alan Gibbons of the Campaign for the Book and a member of the Speak Up For Libraries coalition, criticised Newcastle’s Labour-run council. He said: “A Labour council should not be acting as a conduit for the cuts made by a millionaire’s cabinet.”

He added: “When we visit a library and read a book we stand on the shoulders of giants so we can see further, we raise our self esteem and awareness of identity and make ourselves anew, open to the great possibilities of life.”

Newcastle-born author David Almond also spoke out against the planned cuts, saying: “It is easy to forget how important a library is. A library was hugely liberating, it was egalitarian and democratic. I hated school but I loved the library. At school I was taught not to be ambitious. When I was in the library I thought I could do anything. We want kids to become themselves, to look forward to abundant and pleasant lives. Without that library I probably wouldn’t have become a writer.”

Gibbons also read statements from Val Bierman, the programme administrator for the Northern Children’s Book Festival, and Lee Hall, the writer of Billy Elliott.

Bierman said: “This latest blow of closures will be yet a further setback. NCBF should celebrate 30 years of existence in 2013 but it’s future is now seriously threatened.”

Lee said: “A Labour administration which would even consider closing all local libraries travesties the history of the party and the Labour movement. For more than a century libraries have been central to a vision that ordinary lives are blighted if they are denied access to learning and culture.”

Gibbons closed the meeting urging all campaigners to work together: “If great pressure is coming from above for cuts there has to be an equal, indeed more powerful, countervailing pressure from below, from the people.”

Newcastle City Council has now outlined its proposals for savings, the equivalent of £760 for every household in the city. Around 1,300 jobs are set to be lost over the next three years alongside the library cuts, while bin collections will be halved and leisure facilities will be transferred to private bodies.

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Oh! Get Real!

I used to work for Newcastle City Libraries so I speak with the authority of experience.

Tony Durcan has been running down Newcastle City Libraries for years and simultaneously looking out for his own career, trying to move sideways into 'culture' and away from libraries like a man running from the leper colony. He is no different from all the other 'executives' at the head of public library services. They talk public service but look out for their own interests first. Whatever happens, you can be sure there will be library closures and job cuts but don't expect senior management to feel the axe or take a cut in their over-generous salary package. If you are looking for the true spirit of public service then look to the lowly library assistants who provide the front line services. They are the ones who have suffered most and will be losing their jobs. I say screw Durcan but I do feel for the others.

Let's look at the branch libraries in question: these libraries were failing for years - stocked with low quality books, mainly paperback fiction, not items bought by professional librarians to address a known demand amongst the public, but sent under a contract where the library bought the remaindered stock of publishers at knockdown prices to have something to put on the shelves. Often a branch would have multiple copies of junk works; never read or borrowed this stock would be thrown away every 3 - 6 months. Public libraries were just a pause between the publishers' tax write-off and the recycling bin. When I was a kid I loved libraries and used to read voraciously but that was 50 years ago. Books have not been the focus of public libraries for many years. If New Labour had not subsidised internet access and used public libraries as free-to-use internet 'cafes' then the public libraries would have closed long ago. These closures are simply inevitable. Computers extended the life of public libraries but I see no reason to subsidise computer use now when access is so cheap anyone can afford it.

Libraries are costly to run so to justify paying to keep them open other uses have been found for the space they occupy. Libraries have hybridised into 'generic public space'. They have tried to be all things to all men instead of just being libraries and as a result they have failed to be either libraries or anything else. Apart from being 'internet cafes' the extra services that libraries have been forced to provide alongside library services are endless. Every time there was a social problem, some 'think tank' would suggest libraries could solve it. It was a way of looking like the government was dealing with e.g. under-age pregnancies or homelessness without having to spend any money, employ any qualified staff or train any existing staff. Working in a branch library, each week I'd be asked to come up with some idea about how my library would help meet targets on e.g. mental health issues; pre-school education; asylum seekers; obesity etc. How the hell were people employed to provide library services to suddenly solve the obesity problem, seeing that professionals with far better training, resources and remuneration could not solve the problem? Honestly, for years it has been almost psychotic seeing the contortions people were forced into in order to pretend that a library could do the work of a psychiatric hospital or a school or a social services department all as if by magic. There should have been a wake-up call long before this!

The branch libraries being closed were unpoliced public space plagued by the anti-social behaviour of out-of-control children, youths and sometimes adults. Library staff were given no training or support from senior management for managing this hooliganism and were left on the front line to face problems the rest of society expects the emergency services to handle. Under-paid, under-resourced, under-trained, over-stressed front-line library staff were treated like shit for years and redundancies are just the logical conclusion.

Personally, I think that if they close the branches down then it is something to be grateful for. The library staff can find work in the private sector - I can't see any posh bookshop expecting staff to tolerate the sort of anti-social behaviour that was a part of daily life in public libraries - and maybe be rewarded in proportion for their effort instead of being ripped-off and exploited as they were by Newcastle City Council. The thuggish youths that ruined those places for every other library user will just have to hang around the local bus stop and vandalise it instead - here society have your problems back, the local library doesn't want them. And I guess the publishers will just have to pulp their own remaindered paperbacks.

As for the rent-a-quote worthies like David Almond who are lined up to talk in nostalgic tones about how wonderful libraries used to be - wake up Rip Van Winkle! It is bloody obvious you never went into a library in the last ten years or you'd know that the library you recall from your childhood has not existed for decades. Libraries are dead and I for one am glad the stinking corpse can be given a decent burial and we can all move on. Personally, if I can't afford to buy the book I need, can't find an alternative web resource online, I go to the local university library and use their resources. I have not used a public library for years because it offers nothing I want.

Close all the public libraries and maybe the likes of Durcan will have to work for a living. Welcome to the real world, Tony.

Oh! Get Real!

I used to work for Newcastle City Libraries so I speak with the authority of experience.

Tony Durcan has been running down Newcastle City Libraries for years and simultaneously looking out for his own career, trying to move sideways into 'culture' and away from libraries like a man running from the leper colony. He is no different from all the other 'executives' at the head of public library services. They talk public service but look out for their own interests first. Whatever happens, you can be sure there will be library closures and job cuts but don't expect senior management to feel the axe or take a cut in their over-generous salary package. If you are looking for the true spirit of public service then look to the lowly library assistants who provide the front line services. They are the ones who have suffered most and will be losing their jobs. I say screw Durcan but I do feel for the others.

Let's look at the branch libraries in question: these libraries were failing for years - stocked with low quality books, mainly paperback fiction, not items bought by professional librarians to address a known demand amongst the public, but sent under a contract where the library bought the remaindered stock of publishers at knockdown prices to have something to put on the shelves. Often a branch would have multiple copies of junk works; never read or borrowed this stock would be thrown away every 3 - 6 months. Public libraries were just a pause between the publishers' tax write-off and the recycling bin. When I was a kid I loved libraries and used to read voraciously but that was 50 years ago. Books have not been the focus of public libraries for many years. If New Labour had not subsidised internet access and used public libraries as free-to-use internet 'cafes' then the public libraries would have closed long ago. These closures are simply inevitable. Computers extended the life of public libraries but I see no reason to subsidise computer use now when access is so cheap anyone can afford it.

Libraries are costly to run so to justify paying to keep them open other uses have been found for the space they occupy. Libraries have hybridised into 'generic public space'. They have tried to be all things to all men instead of just being libraries and as a result they have failed to be either libraries or anything else. Apart from being 'internet cafes' the extra services that libraries have been forced to provide alongside library services are endless. Every time there was a social problem, some 'think tank' would suggest libraries could solve it. It was a way of looking like the government was dealing with e.g. under-age pregnancies or homelessness without having to spend any money, employ any qualified staff or train any existing staff. Working in a branch library, each week I'd be asked to come up with some idea about how my library would help meet targets on e.g. mental health issues; pre-school education; asylum seekers; obesity etc. How the hell were people employed to provide library services to suddenly solve the obesity problem, seeing that professionals with far better training, resources and remuneration could not solve the problem? Honestly, for years it has been almost psychotic seeing the contortions people were forced into in order to pretend that a library could do the work of a psychiatric hospital or a school or a social services department all as if by magic. There should have been a wake-up call long before this!

The branch libraries being closed were unpoliced public space plagued by the anti-social behaviour of out-of-control children, youths and sometimes adults. Library staff were given no training or support from senior management for managing this hooliganism and were left on the front line to face problems the rest of society expects the emergency services to handle. Under-paid, under-resourced, under-trained, over-stressed front-line library staff were treated like shit for years and redundancies are just the logical conclusion.

Personally, I think that if they close the branches down then it is something to be grateful for. The library staff can find work in the private sector - I can't see any posh bookshop expecting staff to tolerate the sort of anti-social behaviour that was a part of daily life in public libraries - and maybe be rewarded in proportion for their effort instead of being ripped-off and exploited as they were by Newcastle City Council. The thuggish youths that ruined those places for every other library user will just have to hang around the local bus stop and vandalise it instead - here society have your problems back, the local library doesn't want them. And I guess the publishers will just have to pulp their own remaindered paperbacks.

As for the rent-a-quote worthies like David Almond who are lined up to talk in nostalgic tones about how wonderful libraries used to be - wake up Rip Van Winkle! It is bloody obvious you never went into a library in the last ten years or you'd know that the library you recall from your childhood has not existed for decades. Libraries are dead and I for one am glad the stinking corpse can be given a decent burial and we can all move on. Personally, if I can't afford to buy the book I need, can't find an alternative web resource online, I go to the local university library and use their resources. I have not used a public library for years because it offers nothing I want.

Close all the public libraries and maybe the likes of Durcan will have to work for a living. Welcome to the real world, Tony.