Nick Poole, c.e.o. of library and information association CILIP, has condemned recent library cuts as "a wholesale assault on a vital civic institution", in a speech made at a Labour Party Conference fringe event yesterday (25th September).
Speaking at the event, held at Liverpool Central Library and chaired by Gill Furniss, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Libraries, Poole commented: "How a civilised nation treats its libraries is a barometer of how it values its citizens. And in today's Britain, a Britain of austerity and inequality, we should be outraged at how our libraries are being treated."
Poole told the meeting: "Our great public libraries and their counterparts in schools, prisons, colleges and hospitals are founded on a powerful idea - the idea of equality and democracy, of universal empowerment for working people.
He described libraries as among the UK's most widely used and trusted civil institutions, with over 250 million visits to public libraries, nearly 90 million visits online, particularly popular with 18-25-year-olds and with a more diverse user demographic than any other cultural activity. He said: "A modern library is the Common Room at the heart of its community, supporting learning, health and wellbeing, helping people get online, use Council services. It brings people together of all ages and faiths, helps overcome loneliness and social isolation in every town, city and village the length and breadth of our nation."
But he warned: "How a civilised nation treats its libraries is a barometer of how it values its citizens. And in today's Britain, a Britain of austerity and inequality, we should be outraged at how our libraries are being treated.
"In 2010, there were 4,446 libraries in the UK. In 2017, that number had fallen to just over 3,600. In some Councils, our provision of libraries per capita is among the lowest in Europe.
"Of those, around 500 have been surrendered to volunteerism - cast adrift from Local Authority support despite the statutory basis of library provision under the law. Between 8,000 and 10,000 skilled, dedicated and professional library workers have lost their jobs.
"This is not normal. This is not ‘living within our means’. This is a wholesale assault on a vital civic institution that is in turn a vital part of the fabric of an equal, prosperous and inclusive society."
Poole also highlighted the lack of library provision in state schools, and prisoners being unable to access their prison libraries due to a lack of adequate staffing and resources. "We hear horror stories of privatised prisons in which the library is left locked and unstaffed for months on end - preventing prisoners from completing courses of study or improving their education," he noted.
The CILIP c.e.o. called on the Labour Party to provide a coherent national and local policy to build literacy and opportunity for the many, not the few, asking for fair funding for local government to secure quality local libraries for every community, and for the reintroduction of the idea of a National Library Service, which he called "a vital 21st century infrastructure for literacy, learning and empowerment. He also asked for targeted funding and policy for libraries in schools and colleges; and for a policy to ensure prisons abide by the Prison Service Instructions on library provision.
Other speakers at the event were Kevin Brennan MP, Julie Ward MEP, The Lord Bird, Councillor Wendy Simon, and Councillor Gary Millar.
CILIP is also engaging with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat party conferences.
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