Love for Libraries

17 February 2016

On 6 February, people across the UK expressed their love for libraries. The 2016 National Libraries Day was the biggest celebration yet, with over 850 events taking place and massive online interaction.

A few days later the Speak Up for Libraries coalition took the fight to Parliament. On 9 February, authors, readers, librarians and library lovers young and old were joined by representatives from the media, UNISON and UNITE.

Dawn Finch, President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and committee member of the SoA’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group, thanked the crowd and gave a speech:

Some people would have us believe that libraries have no relevance in the 21st Century. This is simply not true and with almost 260 million visits to libraries last year we have solid evidence that they are an essential place in our communities…

We should not even need to have this conversation. The societal value of our public libraries has been long established and, because of it, the Government has a standing legal obligation to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. The fact that this has not been happening is now being legally challenged via the CILIP My Library By Right initiative.

The lobbyists asked MPs to sign up to the Early Day Motion (EDM) to protect library services as a statutory right and offer guidance for local authorities to ensure adequate funding.

You can still call on your MP to support the EDM. The EDM has backers from all parties and we asked a cross-section why they were giving it their support. Labour’s Jim Shannon is one of the sponsors of the motion:

Libraries provide an important function in providing free access to information for those who cannot otherwise access it. They also provide an important function in being a hub for older people and have great community value.

Caroline Lucas, MP of the Greens, is also a supporter. She says:

Libraries have borne the brunt of the Government's public spending cuts, but I believe that they are more important than ever as a public space. It’s a tragedy to see so many libraries shutting down across the UK and it’s time that the Government gives these crucial public assets the backing they need. As Caitlin Moran said ‘On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.’

I know that volunteers are doing an amazing job in keeping libraries open but if we’re to maintain and build this provision it’s crucial that paid staff have job security too. Libraries need a long-term plan of protection. I’m calling on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to include a programme of library development and modernisation in its plans for the next four years.

Following the lobby, the question of library provision was raised in the House of Lords. Lord Greave, a Liberal Democrat peer, asked the Government ‘what assessment they have made of the impact of the Local Government Finance Settlement on the provision of libraries.’ You can read the Hansard report of the debate here.

The Bookseller coverage of the Libraries Lobby - 9 February 2016