I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
- Rudyard Kipling
A few people have asked me what they should do if they want to take part in the national day of action for libraries on 5th February.
Alan Gibbons has given some advice on his blog, so I thought I’d give a little bit of a How To based on what I’ve learnt over the last few months, in Five Ws (and one H) form:
What: A Read-In! I described what they are in this post for Voices for the Library. Basically, they’re family-friendly, peaceful protests.
Why: A few reasons – a) To celebrate public library services, librarians and library staff and the brilliant things they do for people, communities and society. b) To raise awareness of proposed cuts to library services. c) To bring people together to fight against those cuts. d) Show the level of support locally.
When: Any time that works strategically for your library campaign. For the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign, that’s 29th January, as soon as we can after the extent of the cuts in Doncaster is announced on 11th January in the Mayor’s budget, and then 5th February, which is the announced national day of action against library cuts. There’s still time for you to organise something for that day, and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise it through national media channels if you send details to him by mid-January. Pick a time to hold the Read-In. It could be a couple of hours long, or last the whole day. Make sure you check the opening times of the library! Saturdays are the best day, obviously, so that more people can get involved.
Where: Wherever there’s a library under threat. You could hold a Read-In at the threatened branch itself, or at the central library of the town it’s in, if the smaller branch itself is hard to reach. An event at the central branch might be more practical and effective. For example, Doncaster is the largest metropolitan borough in the country, which means that it can be difficult, expensive and take a long time for people to get from one side of the borough to the other, hence the Read-In at the central branch on 29th January, even though the central library itself (as far as we know) isn’t set to close.
How: After you’ve picked a date and time, publicise it.
Police: The first thing it can be helpful to do is let the local police station know that there will be a Read-In. Remember, you have a right to protest and you’re not obliged to let the police know if you’re not organising a march, but it can be helpful. They can give advice about what to avoid (like obstructing public rights of way). Let them know it’s not a militant or violent protest. As soon as you mention libraries, they’ll probably laugh and say “right, so we don’t need to send a riot van then”, which is what I’ve experienced!
Communities: Make phonecalls, send emails, start a Facebook group and set up an event, give out flyers, put up posters in local shops, put an advert in the local paper, spread the word when you’re in the Post Office and ask people to mention it when they’re out and about.
Media: Let local (and national) newspapers and radio stations know. Journalists are more likely to pick up on the event if you send them a press release. There’s advice about how to write one here. Tell unions and anti-cuts organisations like False Economy, UK Uncut, Coalition of Resistance and Unison. Voices for the Library and Alan Gibbons will help to publicise your event.
It’s a good idea to designate a media contact for the event in case journalists want to interview someone beforehand or come to the event and interview someone there. They’re likely to want to know:
- What cuts are being made
- Which libraries are under threat
- How many members of staff are likely to lose their jobs
- By how much the book budget will be cut
- Who stands to lose out because of the cuts
- What impact the cuts will have
- What new things are being proposed (for example, replacing paid staff with volunteers or self-service machines)
- Why volunteers can’t and shouldn’t run a library service
- How the decision-making processes of the council are flawed
- How cuts to libraries are counter-productive and disproportionate
Gather together as much information as you can and be prepared to answer questions. You can use the information to make flyers with key information on them to give out at the event, too.
You need to think about what you’re going to do with people when they all turn up at the library. Some ideas are:
- Ask people to sign a petition against proposed cuts and closures. Some councils don’t allow petition-signing to take place on council property (although most do), so it might be best to do it as people go in and out. Or, just make sure you don’t do it inside if you’re asked not to and shown the proof that you’re not allowed to
- Use the library! Browse the shelves, borrow resources, use the PCs, read the newspapers.
- Encourage people to join the library if they’re not already members.
- Get people to talk about what libraries mean to them, and how it will affect them if the library service is cut.
- Hold readings of favourite books.
- Get the kids involved – take some costumes, read aloud, get them drawing and writing, dancing and singing.
- Have a musical interlude.
- Get people to write to their MP and the council.
- Maybe walk in and out a few times to really up the footfall statistics
Who: Everybody. The point of public libraries is that they’re there for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or political affiliation. Libraries are non-judgemental, democratic institutions that are open to all. It’s important for library campaign groups to be non-Political (with a big P) and promote the values of the public library. This means being welcoming to all and not discouraging anyone from taking part. It’s therefore important for publicity like flyers, posters and banners to be free of logos and have an inclusive tone. It may well be that your potentially strongest supporters may well have changed their mind about who they voted for in the first place, and being openly anti-whoever could prevent them from making their voices heard.