Pullman calls library fight "war against stupidity"

Pullman calls library fight "war against stupidity"

Northern Lights author Philip Pullman has told library campaigners they were fighting a "war against stupidity" and criticised Brent council for its "political bullshit" over library closures.

He made the speech as library campaigners from across the country vowed to work together to put pressure on government, at a pioneering day conference held in London on Saturday (22nd October).

Over 75 campaigners, from as far afield as Doncaster, Suffolk, Dorset and Bolton, attended the conference, organised by The Library Campaign with Voices for the Library. The Women's Institute, which has adopted libraries as a current campaign issue, was also among organisations taking part.

Volunteer-run libraries were a key issues of the day, with a show of hands revealing not a single delegate actively in favour of them compared to a local authority run service. Instead campaigners, including Laura Collignon of the Save Kensal Rise Library campaign, talked of it as a "backs against the wall" alternative to outright closures. Applause greeted a speaker from the floor who termed volunteer-run libraries "the slow death of the library service".

Many campaigners spoke of being ignored by their councils, even when offering viable alternative plans to planned cutbacks. As groups looked for ways to unite their efforts, there was support for a Wiki site for shared information and resources, and discussion of potential national actions including a read-in outside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or a march on Downing Street.

Pullman gave a closing speech which spoke of the fight against library cutbacks as a "war" against the "stupidity" engulfing many aspects of our national and global life.  He reserved particular mockery for a claim made by Brent councillor Ann John in the wake of the recent High Court judgement that Brent's library closures were not unlawful. John had said that the council could now get on with "exciting plans to improve Brent's library service". Pullman called the claim a "masterpiece" which "ought to be quoted in every anthology of political bullshit from here to eternity".

The author also criticised the policy adopted by Brent and other councils of closing small local libraries in favour of larger central ones, saying it meant libraries would be visited less by children because they were further away. He said: "We must make our libraries accessible to children."

He praised campaigners for "the detailed and concentrated thought" they were giving their cause. Calling the public library service "a pearl of great price", Pullman said: "It would be easy to lament, to pour ashes over our head, to wail and cry, but you're not doing that. There's a sense of purpose here."