Campaigners, flanked by popular authors including Chris Riddell, Cathy Cassidy and Michael Rosen, are to gather this Saturday (5th November) to show that they are prepared to "fight tooth and nail" to protect the public library service.
Organised by children's author Alan Gibbons, Barnet Unison, campaigner Alan Wylie and other activists, the National Libraries Demonstration hopes to "kick start the debate about the value of public libraries and alert the public to the ever worsening situation". Gibbons cited the examples of services in Walsall, which will see all but one library close, Lancashire, which will see more than 20 libraries shut, and his home town of Warrington, which may see nine libraries go.
The march, which has been backed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, will begin at the British Library in London at noon. It will then move to the British Museum before ending at the National Gallery where Cassidy, Riddell and Rosen will speak.
Riddell, who is the Waterstone's children's laureate, told The Bookseller that the decline of the public library service is a "tragedy for the great literary culture of this country".
"Libraries are cultural hubs that, if nurtured by government, have the ability to transform lives.They are quiet havens in our communities, we must all raise our voices to save them", he said.
Cassidy lamented the "shameful and shocking" numbers of library closures in the UK and added: "There is a very special kind of irony in a government which pushes private schemes to get kids reading while simultaneously closing libraries".
She told The Bookseller: "I originally began campaigning to stop library closures because my readers were emailing me to ask if I could help to save their local libraries. Then my own local libraries in Liverpool and Wirral were threatened; and the libraries I loved as a child in Coventry are also being closed. The same thing is happening across the UK, and if the current figures so far seem scary, it is clear that the worst is yet to come. What will we say to our children, our communities, if we stand by and allow a misguided austerity government to close pretty much every local library we have?
"This demo will bring together authors, campaigners and library lovers of all ages and backgrounds to show the government that we will not stay silent while destroy our public library service. Libraries matter... education, creativity and culture matter. If we don’t speak up for libraries now, there will be no libraries left to speak up for."
Wylie told The Bookseller that the organisers were expecting between 1,000 and 5,000 people "from all over the country" to attend the rally.
"Our message is that we've lost 8,000 library workers and 500+ libraries [including libraries that are now volunteer-led] and seen many museums/galleries closed or privatised and many museum/gallery staff culled and that these services/instiutions and staff are crucial for an educated, literate, cultured and democratic society and we will fight tooth and nail to protect them. We hope that the demo will be the start of many more similar events across the UK."
Lauren Smith of the Voices for the Library campaign added: “The demonstration reinforces the message that public libraries, museums and art galleries are a right, not a luxury. The cultural and social importance of access to works of literature and art, and the ability to make connections with our communities and history, is of vital importance for the health of our nation and cannot be underestimated.”
Smith added: “These services are more than ‘nice to haves’; they are central to the health and growth of societies and democratic life. These are resources that everyone should have access to, regardless of their background, postcode and income.”
Susan Chinn, chairwoman of the Highgate Library Action Group, told The Bookseller that she hopes the rally will inform the government about the "passionate feelings about saving local libraries" and alert politicians to the need for central support of libraries.
"Many politicians [seem to be] unaware of the austerity damage in council policy and needs to be reminded we care", Chinn said. "I’m very worried as presently no one in government seems to be listening and our children and seniors are increasingly losing ‘vital’ public services.”
UK library and information association CILIP and librarians' body The Society of Chief Libraries have also announced their support for demonstration’s aims to highlight the essential role of public libraries in society.