what, more arts cuts?



Save our libraries protests took place up and down the country yesterday. Protesters, reacting against yet more arts funding cuts, staged mass ‘shh-ins’ and flashmob book readings to express their support for Britain’s libraries. Appealing against 400 planned library closures, authors, artists, and readers alike joined forces to protect our library system.

Many protesters entered libraries and took out the maximum they were allowed. The theory being that libraries cannot be labelled underused, or indeed closed, when most of the books are out on loan. Authors such as Philip Pullman, Mark Haddon, and Kate Mosse made appearances yesterday to lead protests against the cuts and support is even being expressed across the Atlantic by international authors like Margaret Atwood.

Only 160 years after the passing of the Public Libraries Act, an initiative that aimed to raise educational standards and make literature available for all, our libraries are under threat. They are being targeted for cuts because they are unprofitable. But surely there are other measures of success?

Newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent have been covering the fight against library closures and interviewing those who will be affected:

Isabel Anderson, nine, suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and has been off school for over a year. Her local library in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, has helped her not to fall behind in her school work. She is too tired to travel further away. “I use my library two or three times a week for books, DVDs and story tapes. When I was really ill, libraries provided me with something to do and helped me to keep up with school.”

Ruth Corboy, 42, is a mother from Milton Keynes and a regular user of Stony Stratford Library, where members have emptied the shelves in protest. “Our library is one of the few community spaces that mothers still feel safe sending their children. It has been critical to my daughter’s education, and she frequently uses it. Visits from authors and teachers provide entertainment and inspiration that supplements their schooling.”

(taken from an article by The Independent)

Bettie Wighting, who refuses to reveal her age but is, whispers someone who knows, past 90. ”I live right near,” she says, “so I come three times a week. I read two or three books in a week, you see. Non-fiction mostly, history, biographies. But it’s not just books, it’s information; knowing what’s going on. Like when they change the bin times at Christmas.”
She gestures at a steady flow of visitors, each greeted (often by name, frequently first) by two librarians. This library, Bettie says, is friends. And knowledge, of course: “My children, when they were young, they were in here all the time. If Mr Snow doesn’t know the answer, I’d say – he was librarian here for 30 years – well he’ll find you a book that does.”

(taken from an article by The Guardian)

I personally have fond memories of hours spent pouring over books in the library as a child. We would go once a week, take out three books each and enter drawing competitions or read-a-thons. It wasn’t just a library, it was a community centre and a place for people of all ages to meet. My local library was an exciting place to go and fuelled my love of books… and it’s probably partly the reason why I am now studying English at university.

Our library service is invaluable and needs protecting. Images from the Guardian website are drawing on war propaganda to inspire the masses to stand up for our libraries, questioning our individual responsibility and promoting a collective and national effort. I would imagine that this propaganda-esque campaign feels especially poignant for those who recall that Britain’s libraries were not even shut during the world wars.

The reason that libraries were created is still a valid one. An article from the Guardian website outlines how one library in  nearby Somerset, where 20 out of 34 libraries are under threat of closure, tried to illustrate this point: “a hooded “book snatcher” will descend on the library, stealing books from children and the elderly inside, and leaving them instead with signs that say “illiteracy”, “poor life chances”, and “social isolation”.” Free reading material is a right and one that future generations should not be deprived of. In our increasingly digital and anonymous society, our country needs more, not less, public spaces. Libraries build communities, they are a place of learning, fun, and interaction.

Watch Somerset’s ‘We Love Libraries’ video here.

Are YOU guilty of neglecting your local library?

Exeter Central Library, for example, offers children’s, teen, and adult fiction and non-fiction, study materials, local information, printers, photocopiers, internet access, audio books, CD’s, DVD’s, language courses, reading groups, a training centre, computer taster sessions, and wi fi.

Show your support for Britain’s libraries! Rather than finding a cheap copy on Amazon or succumbing to the pull of cheap e-books, go to your local library instead.  Whether you borrow one book or take out your full allowance, taking advantage of our libraries while we still can might just make a difference to their future.

Published on http://www.razzmag.wordpress.com February 6th 2011.

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