September 27, 2016
Writers and activists urge new UK culture secretary to make libraries a priority
by Chad Felix
Sigh. It’s an endless battle, keeping these libraries open. You know how it goes: if your branch isn’t being sold off to be turned into luxury condominiums, or converted into a healthy living center, or being vandalized by jerks, there’s at least a very good chance that it’s underfunded — which will result in fewer books, fewer public programs, shorter operating hours, and more pressure on the librarians that work there (or, increasingly, the librarian, singular). It’s a situation that hurts everyone, and it’s doubly frustrating because, as recent studies show, libraries are only getting more and more important.
So when an opportunity to (maybe!) improve matters appears, one must act. This is why, the Guardian’s Alison Flood reports, library activist and children’s author Alan Gibbons has penned an open letter to Staffordshire Moorlands MP Karen Bradley, the UK’s Secretary of State for Media, Culture, and Sport. Bradley is new to the position — she replaced John Whittingdale in July — and with this letter, she has been put on notice that communities won’t stand idly by while more and more libraries fall into disrepair or see closure.
The letter, which is signed by more than three hundred people (including writers like Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman, as well as teachers and trade unionists), notes that in the UK, “since 2010, 343 libraries have closed, opening hours have been cut, and 8,000 paid and trained library staff have been lost,” while at the same time “there has been a 93% increase in the use of library volunteers over the past six years, with budgets, education programmes and specialist services such as mobile libraries also slashed.”
“We call upon you,” the letter reads, “as secretary of state for culture, media and sport to recognise this crisis and set a new course after years of decline.”
The letter is just the beginning. As Flood reports, “Campaigners, including library lovers and trade unionists, are also preparing to march in protest at cuts to libraries on 5 November, starting at the British Library and ending with a rally outside the House of Commons, and are calling on the public to join them. The demonstration is backed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.”
For the time being, Bradley seems to be on Gibbons’s side, having previously stated that she is “committed to making sure these sectors [media, culture, and sport] continue to thrive.” Which, of course she is, it’s her job — but if history tells us anything, diligence on this issue is key, especially when the other industries you’re competing with are very, very good at making money, and excel at providing distraction.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.