On 5th February 2012, support groups all over the UK celebrated Save Your Libraries Day.
Do you think that the name sounds overly dramatic? In these days of swingeing cuts, it’s entirely appropriate. As over 400 public libraries are threatened with closure nationwide – including 73 in London – pro-active user support is paramount in the fight to save the service. It is vital for the future of our libraries that local support groups have strong, articulate and active members.
Activists in Barnet and Camden are struggling hard. Camden Council closed 4 libraries which are now opened as volunteer-run spaces, with a great deal of support and enough funds to keep open for the next few years. The future of these libraries is carefully watched by CPLG –the umbrella group for Camden.
In Barnet there is a pop-up library in Frien Barnet, where a library closed by the council was occupied and reopened. Legal struggles are taking place but until they are resolved volunteers are running the library.
Transforming libraries into ‘community hubs’ -is the method favoured in Haringey. Libraries are to retain all of their previous services, but also become sources for local information and council services for all citizens. Not all libraries can attain this, despite efforts by user groups to revitalise the use of undeveloped library space and sponsor new activities to take place there, including poetry, writing, discussion, and gardening.
Across London, umbrella groups in many boroughs have pooled their resources and expertise and combined with other user groups as Libraries for Life for Londoners in order to broaden the support movement across the capital.
LLL is considering concentrating publicity on the library problem through the London Assembly, following up the London Mayor’s proposal for a London Libraries trust.
Pressure is even building on the Culture Secretary as grassroots legal challenges are mounted: one by library users in Lewisham, the other by The Campaign for the Book. Both of these cite the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act (which states that a “comprehensive and efficient” service should be provided) and point up the uneven treatment of the public library service in councils facing cuts. Neither challenge succeeded, but the fights continue.
Every library user and supporter can play a role in this, and we suggest that you start by visiting your local library. You’ll be amazed at the variety of experiences now available in even the smallest branches. Libraries are not just places to borrow books. They are life portals, introducing entire communities to the wide world of words, music, drama and art. This is something well worth fighting for.
Below is a list and links to various library campaigns. Sign up to be a friend now.
Libraries for Life for Londoners: http://www.librarylondon.btck.co.uk. Meetings every month on the first Thursday at Camden Town Hall at 7:30. Any support group or supporter welcome to attend and j;oin.
The Library Campaign: http://www.librarycampaign.com
Voices for the Library: voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress
Brent Save our Seven: brentsoslibraries.org.uk