Call for unity at Speak Up For Libraries

Call for unity at Speak Up For Libraries

Library supporters must brace themselves for worse times ahead, and work together in spite of differences, speakers at the annual Speak Up for Libraries conference said on Saturday (23rd November).

Delegates from across the country gathered for the London conference, which included speeches from Arts Council England's Brian Ashley, the Society of Chief Librarians president Janene Cox, and author Alan Gibbons.

Laura Swaffield, chair of The Library Campaign, said that the day had painted a grim picture of the library situation around the country, but also showed the level of support that was forming in opposition to the cuts and closures. She said: "The entire background is desperate shortages. The Government are set on austerity and cuts will only get worse in the future. We're seeing the destruction of local authorities – soon they won't have the money to even outsource their library services.

"But at the same time we are seeing good work being done. SCL's Universal Offers are a good benchmark for how libraries can develop and promote themselves, and there is lots of strong campaigning around the country. The problem is it so disparate. Each one has to start from scratch to explain to local councils how valuable the library service is – there needs to be something they can have in their hand to say this is what libraries do."

Campaigning author Alan Gibbons emphasised that campaigners had to resolve themselves to face worse times ahead, saying campaigning was divided into "protest" and "persuasion" wings. "The protest wing has organised fantastic protests, but decades of defeats mean many don’t think they can win," he said. "The persuasion wing sounds plausible, but government is not really interested. This is no time to shrug, no time to become pessimistic and think change is not possible. Nobody can predict when the mood will change. Next year could be more challenging than this. We have no choice but to maintain the coalition of persuasion and protest and discuss differences in a cordial manner."

During panels discussions held throughout the day, budget cuts remained the key concern, but ignorance among politicians and the public as to what libraries can offer was also cited as very important.

Many speakers and delegates emphasised that spreading a positive message about libraries was was key.

Yinnon Ezra, who advises the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on libraries, said: "We need strong marketing. Say who is using service, who isn’t and finding ways to get to those who aren’t. It’s a relentless process. Do it again, improve the message, do it again. New audiences then appear."
Cox said: "Positive messages are important… we must stress the difference libraries make to lives of the community."