March 31, 2022
“Wot, No Books?” Milton Keynes library saved after protesters check out its entire stock
by Tom Clayton
In the past decade, nearly 800 UK libraries have been forced to close since austerity measures were launched by the Conservative Party in 2010. Public spending cuts continue to bite hard – but, as detailed this week in The MK Citizen, one community in Milton Keynes has shown how to bite back.
The people of Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes, were dismayed when MK Council announced the closure of their library way back in 2011—and so began a remarkable campaign to save it.
A residents’ group, named Friends of Stony Stratford Library (FoSSL), was quickly formed, and took to social media to highlight the institution’s plight. Then one member had an extraordinary idea for a novel form of protest: check out every one of the library’s books.
FoSSL member Emily Malleson, speaking at the time, is quoted in this week’s MK Citizen report:
A local resident mentioned the idea, maybe as a bit of a joke, but we thought it was a great idea… I put it on Facebook and emailed everyone I could think of and it’s just gone absolutely mad… I think it’s a very simple but clever idea and it’s given something that people can act on and make their voice heard. It shows [the library]’s such an important part of the community and well-used by everyone.
Library members descended on the shelves, with books at one point being checked out at a “staggering” rate of 380 per hour. The radical act is detailed in this excellent YouTube video, which subsequently went viral.
Within days the library’s stock—around 16,000 books—had all been checked out, leaving the shelves bare: a simple, powerful and stark reminder of what the community would look like bereft of books.
It prompted a change of heart from the council, who instead agreed to retain the library space, integrating other community services into the premises, and redecorating and revamping the building.
After a short period of closure in 2021, “on Saturday [March 26th] it was officially re-opened by the Mayor of Milton Keynes, Cllr Mohammed Khan, and townspeople joined in a weekend of celebratory events.”
It’s a superb example of how community action (and ten years of perseverance!) can effect positive change, and one we heartily applaud.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.