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New shadow libraries minister condemns closures
21.12.11 | Benedicte Page
Recently appointed shadow libraries minister Dan Jarvis has condemned "mindless closures" of libraries and said that now more than ever is the time to harness the opportunities libraries offer and use them as "ladders of social mobility and personal development".
Jarvis' words come as an open letter criticising culture minister Ed Vaizey's inaction over closures, signed by many prominent authors, was delivered to the minister by the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaign group.
In an article published by New Labour pressure group Progress, Jarvis, MP for Barnsley, said: "These are undoubtedly difficult times, and with them come difficult decisions, but there can be no excuse for government policies that are short-sighted and destructive."
He continued: "Like any institution, particularly one funded by the public purse, if libraries are to maintain their purpose and place in the 21st century then they must progress and modernise. But this is not a mandate to rebuild every library from scratch, or for mindless closures. Instead, it presents an opportunity to be visionary about the place of a library in a modern Britain."
He warned that the use of volunteers should be "an engagement of the community rather than a shuffling off of responsibility" saying he had yet to meet a volunteer group which would not prefer to be supporting a service that was adequately funded by the state. "The Tory vision of the ‘big society’ is an ideological cloak for diluting the basic premise that these services are a fundamental duty of a decent society, and should be treated as such," he wrote.
"In the end, the decision over how we maximise the opportunities that libraries have to offer is also an ideological one. The demographic that is hardest hit by the closure of libraries is always the poorest. The men, women and children who cannot afford the latest laptop and who struggle to pay the landline bill, (if they are even connected) let alone get wi-fi broadband—these are the people you find using the library computers, books and social space. They are the ones in the library doing their homework, searching for jobs and striving to improve their life opportunities."
Jarvis said he had commissioned a report, A Vision for a 21st Century Library, because he wanted the debate over libraries in Westminster to be properly informed by practice on the ground and to know why people value their local library service and how the services can be developed.
Jarvis, who served in the army for 15 years and was a major in the Parachute Regiment, took over from Gloria de Piero as shadow culture minister in the October reshuffle. He received an MBE for his services to the armed forces earlier this month.
Meanwhile library campaign group Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries (FOGL) yesterday (20th December) delivered an open letter to culture minister Ed Vaizey criticising his inaction over library closures, with over 450 signatories including authors such as children's laureate Julia Donaldson, Sarah Waters, Joanna Trollope, Kate Mosse, Tracy Chevalier, Mo Hayder, Anthony Browne, Anne Fine, Michael Rosen and Michael Morpurgo.
Science writers Steve Jones, Simon Singh MBE and Marcus Chown have also endorsed the letter, alongside comedians and broadcasters Marcus Brigstocke, Robin Ince and Chris Addison, as well as many library campaign groups and library users. Demelza Jones of FOGL said the letter stemmed from "a shared frustration that library users continue to hear the same old message from Ed Vaizey and DCMS whilst public libraries close or are made ready for closure across the country. They are fiddling while Rome burns."