2011 in Perspective

I hadn’t intended to write a post summing up what had happened this year or making resolutions for the future (and still don’t!) but then I saw this story in the Independent and thought it was too good a springboard to not use for a little bit of end of year reflection.

A comment that’s sometimes thrown my way when I talk about fighting library cuts and closures is that perhaps I need to get a sense of perspective. It’s only a few books, what am I getting so het up about? Shouldn’t I take my incandescence and direct it at something  worthier, bigger, more ‘important’? In our crazy, messed up world, what’s the point of someone like me spending so much time and energy on library advocacy and activism?

Unsurprisingly, I don’t struggle to construct a fairly comprehensive response about the utter wrongheadedness of that kind of suggestion, which I won’t bore the already converted with here! But now I have this to add to my arsenal. The Independent have named library closures as one of the 12 biggest news stories of 2011:

Library closures: Colin Dexter, 71, author

Libraries became the unexpected social flashpoint of 2011 when the Government cut funding to local authorities and councils responded by proposing library closures.

Local communities, allied with a host of literary stars including Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse, rapidly mobilised to defend them. Judicial reviews challenging the closures were launched across England and Wales. In Scotland, MSPs were petitioned. Private US library service providers moved in for the kill, and many battles are still being fought up and down the land.

“As an older person who has seen libraries through the years, the events of this year are deeply depressing. What has worried me most about the calls for a ‘big society’ solution to the library problem in the past 12 months is the idea that you can cut library services and employ amateurs instead. Librarians have taken years to train up and can tell you what you should and shouldn’t read. Some of the processes are very complicated indeed.

“I think the Government has been surprised by the scale of the response; their actions were taken on the assumption that people would just sit back and let the consultations pave the way for closure. Instead, you saw the people gather and revolt and take their case to the courts instead.

“I would rather turn off every light on the motorway than close our libraries. What we have seen this year will invariably lead to further cultural deprivation.”

I rarely get the sense that what I do is a waste of time. In the darker moments when I get the feeling that everything sucks and The Man is just too big and how can little me and the people I work alongside possibly win this, I always come to the conclusion that I’ve got to do it anyway and try my best and that’s all there is to be done. But knowing that the work that’s been done to get the media aware of the situation and the social and cultural implications of public library cuts has actually had an impact and is listed alongside stories like the fall of Gaddafi, the death of Bin Laden, the NHS reforms and the riots, proves to me that this is the big deal I think it is and that over the last year and a bit, we’ve really managed to get out of the echo chamber and show the world that too. I’m very happy to be part of it and am incredibly proud of the people I work with for everything they’ve achieved.

Edit: It was also announced today that Voices for the Library has been named an Independent voice of 2011. You can see the full Peer Index rankings here. Another achievement for the team to be proud of!

CC tomroper on Flickr

I’m also happy about the fact that issues about power (and abuses thereof), democracy, access to knowledge and freedom of information are being put together and are starting to have a more prominent position in public discussion. More of this please (not least because it’ll really help with my PhD research…)!

via interoccupy.org

When I think about the things that have happened this year I get a bit dizzy. It’s certainly been a big year and it’s had its fair share of bad as well as good. As for 2012…I can’t even begin to think about that without getting a little bit overwhelmed. I can’t wait to get started on my PhD. I’m looking forward to becoming CILIP VP and doing a lot of work to support the organisation and its members as well as help to make it a stronger and louder advocate for the profession. I’m anxious about what’s going to happen with the local and national public library situation and will be doing everything I can to try and get it to go it in the right direction. It’s National Libraries Day on 4th February, so that’s the first big milestone to work towards next year.

I owe a huge thank you to the people who’ve helped me get through this year without being (too much of) a wreck. Thanks guys, you’re awesome, I’m incredibly fortunate to know you and without the support I’ve had this year I’m pretty sure I’d not be coming back for round two in 2012. As it stands though…

via catmacros.wordpress.com

National Library Campaign Conference

On Saturday I attended the Library Campaign conference in London, organised by The Library Campaign and Voices for the Library. The roundup of the day by Voices is here, along with the full text of the speech that Philip Pullman gave.

At the Library Campaign Conference with a teeny bit of Johanna, Demelza and Philip Pullman (Image c/o Benedicte Page)

This was a really important event, not only because it allowed campaigners to share their experiences and offer support and advice, but also to get a sense of how groups around the country feel about hot topics such as volunteer-run libraries, the likelihood of success in legal challenges and what to do about national campaign activities. I think it helped to put campaigners in touch with information and resources they can benefit from. It’s hard to get the message out to everyone about what we do in Voices for the Library, the resources we have on the site that might be of use, and the network of people with experience of library campaigning that we can put in touch with each other, so the event and subsequent publicity has helped. At the same time, it can be hard to be obvious about our limits to manage expectations – we’re all volunteers working full time jobs, and Voices isn’t a funded organisation. We can’t save libraries all on our own and we need a national network – which is why the day was organised in the first place!

A lot of action points came out of the day, a couple of which are particularly important and pressing:

  • The need for a wiki where people can update everyone about local situations and discuss plans of action etc. Voices, The Library Campaign and some others are going to get cracking on this immediately;
  • The need for a large-scale, national event such as a march or rally to put pressure on the DCMS to intervene in library cuts around the country – Voices have been discussing this for a couple of weeks and it was seen as an important activity to get going. Plans are in the pipeline to make sure that the timing, location and scale of this are as effective as possible – let us know if you can help.
I’m very hopeful that the delegates went away with useful information, and will be able to strengthen their own campaigns as well as contribute to the national network. Working alongside organisations like Voices for the Library, CILIP and Campaign for the Book will make events like National Libraries Day even more successful.

Alan Gibbons’ address to the campaign conference

March Against the Cuts

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” – Andrew Carnegie

I couldn’t make it to March for the Alternative on Saturday, so as one of the armchair activists on this occasion, here’s a little collection of my favourite bits and pieces from the internet. There were lots of librarians and people fighting to save libraries who went along. Proud is the wrong word, but it makes me feel happy to know there are some brilliant people out there who aren’t prepared to put up with this rubbish.

Top to Bottom:

  1. By @Usernametaken10
  2. By Debbie Hyde
  3. By @Foyles
  4. By @funktious
  5. By Johanna Anderson
  6. By Tom Roper
  7. By @ReadingYA
  8. By Tom Roper

Some posts from librarians about the day:

Occupy for the Alternative video (UKUncut)

And an account of what really happened in Trafalgar Square, from Laurie Penny.

Read-Ins: A How To

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.