Today is Save Our Libraries Day in the UK.
If you’ve paid any kind of attention at all to the UK news over the last few months, you’ll know that public spending in the UK has been subjected to swingeing cuts within both central and local government. Cash-strapped councils have been forced to look for services they can cut with the least impact on everyday life – and have identified local library services as a soft target.
As many as 450 libraries and mobile library services around the entire UK may close as a result. The Isle of Wight stands to lose all but two of its 11 existing libraries. Even Leicestershire, where the council has vowed not to close any libraries, will have to cut opening hours at some facilities and slash the budget for new books.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been quite a backlash from authors, educationalists, parents and booklovers of all ages. The National Literacy Trust has pointed out that one in six Britons struggle with literacy skills, and that children who use local libraries are twice as likely to do well at reading. (Even though, these days, many branch libraries have been reduced to a limited supply of books of either literary or educational merit, their place largely taken by money-spinning DVDs. Sadly, not all libraries are still the “temples of learning” they once were.)
Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, has blasted as “patronising nonsense” the Government’s Big Society suggestion that libraries should be run by volunteers. Quite rightly – with the best will in the world, the vast majority of volunteers won’t have the skills required to run a library effectively, and who’s going to pay to train them anyway?
There are all sorts of activities and events going on to protest at the cuts. Many library ticket holders are participating in mass shelf-clearings, all taking out their maximum allowance of books at once. Billy Bragg will be playing live at Charmouth library in Dorset. A band of “flying authors” will be visiting every one of Gloucestershire’s 43 libraries today. And a librarian Internet pal of mine, Phil Bradley, has reworked several wartime propaganda posters, which you can see on The Guardian’s website.
If you happen to be in the UK today and have a bit of time to spare, why not strike a blow for literacy and join in your nearest protest? You can find out more here:
CILIP Save Our Libraries Day