High-profile writers including Cathy Cassidy, Jake Arnott and Philip Ardagh gathered at parliament yesterday (9th February) alongside library campaigners to protest the “national scandal” of the widespread closures of public library services across the UK.
Library campaign groups, authors and even a schoolboy travelled from across the country to attend the lobby in Central Hall, Westminster, organised by the Speak Up For Libraries coalition in protest against the “apathy and ignorance in local and central government” in closing libraries across the UK.
Giving a speech to the protestors, Cassidy said: "Councils have a duty to offer a comprehensive and efficient service, but instead our libraries have been bled dry and this is a national scandal.
"Some amazing libraries are really pushing boundaries but we need change and support at government level. We have a government and councils that are launching expensive schemes to get children reading whilst simultaneously closing their very best access to free books. It makes no sense at all."
She added: “Libraries build communities, weave those communities together and help people climb the ladder towards their own potential, one book at a time. It is beyond shameful that Britain can even think of closing libraries, slamming the door on culture and opportunity for young and old alike.”
The Speak Up For Libraries coalition includes the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), whose My Library By Right campaign intends to hold the government to account over its legal responsibilities towards libraries.
CILIP president, writer and librarian Dawn Finch (above), expressed her appreciation and gratitude to the number of library campaigners that had assembled at the lobby.
She said: “We have a great debt of gratitude to library campaigners - it is you people who have been out there, fighting… that is what has kept libraries going and library workers going… for the people in libraries who are not allowed to speak up, you have kept it going."
Finch urged campaigners to use the lobby to ask “why so many MPs have been allowed to stand by while the public library service is being hollowed out."
She said: "Tell them and show them just how much librarians and libraries offer to their communities. Get this pushed further. This is not just about us… this is not just about buildings or books or jobs, this is about the future of our society.”
Alan Gibbons, author and librarian who helped to organise the lobby said the closure of libraries was a “betrayal of the British people”.
He has called on libraries minister Ed Vaizey to debate on library issues when the “maximum number of the public can attend and quiz him”. He says that the culture minister continues to dodge this debate by attempting to host it on difficult dates at awkward times. Gibbons said: “If Ed Vaizey continues to sidestep the issue, he will be judged on it... If he can turn up at a library on National Libraries Day for a photo opportunity, he can turn up at a venue on a Saturday some time this year to debate the issues.”
Gibbons cited international libraries including in China and Finland that are being built and improved. He said the UK will fall behind without investment in the services at government level.
10 year-old George Hamerton, a primary schoolboy and chief librarian at his school (left), also attended the lobby to defend public and school libraries.
He said: “I agree with our government that all children aged eight and above should own a library card, but what is the point when all over the UK, since David Cameron came into power over 400 libraries have shut and there are more proposed cuts to come? It is not a legal requirement for a school to have a library, think of those children who don’t have school or public libraries, where will the access knowledge, where will the access a world for of brilliant children’s literature come from? What the government is doing is wrong and we need to stand up for what is right.”
Heather Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, told the gathering that British public library services been under "sustained attack" since 2010, with 549 libraries closing since David Cameron came into power. She also said since 2009 total library staff hours have fallen by 3m and volunteer hours have risen by 750,000.
Also in attendance at the event were Laura Swaffield and Elizabeth Ash from the Library Campaign, Alan Wylie of Voices for the Library, and children’s author Eve Ainsworth also spoke at the lobby. Children’s writer, John Dougherty performed his song: “What’s Wrong with Ed Vaizey?” Meanwhile campaigners from Barnet, Lambeth, Lewisham, Lincolnshire, Telford, Croydon, Yorkshire, Bristol, Swindon, Hillingdon, Herefordshire, Cardiff, Wirrall, Liverpool, Norfolk, Birmingham, Derbyshire, Dorset and Brent also gathered to protest the widespread library closures.
On Saturday, library visitors participated in hundreds of events to mark National Libraries Day to celebrate and show solidarity support for the public library network. The day also saw anti-cuts protests, with crowds gathering in Lambeth at the Carnegie Library and Upper Norwood Joint Library to protest planned cuts.
Pictures: Rolf Marriott