Shave the Whales…then Save A Library!

Today in the UK is Save Libraries Day (check out the Twitter hashtag #savelibraries)…a day when across the country people of all ages, all classes, all ethnicities will politely and peacefully demonstrate to our Government just how much they want libraries to remain, and not be shut down.

The Politics – I understand the situation we are in financially.  I get that the Govt needs to save money to start paying off the debt.  I agree that, inevitably, this will affect us all in some way (although, as ever, it affects the minority rich far less than the majority poor and middle income).  I disagree though with the very Tory stance of cutting back key services and community resources in order to service the debt.  We can cut back Whitehall, cut back MP expenses, cut back Trident, cut back money flowing like a bleeding artery to the EU…and even cut back a small fraction of what goes on Overseas development.  All these cuts would not damage the access to core services for UK citizens…they would allow such services to continue.

The reality – libraries are seen by the political classes and snooty media spectators as something passe, chavvy, lower-class and 1970’s.  They appear to be a holdout of the socialist past, the state as nanny.  They may even be a drain on local funding where the money could be spent on other worthy needs.  All this is the reality, the way those in power, those in control of the media, those at the top of the pile would have us believe.  “Not enough people use them”, “In an electronic age less and less people want to read real books”, “Libraries are a luxury we can no longer afford”.  But the ACTUAL reality is that our libraries are one of the few remaining democratic, open and inclusive parts of our ailing society.  Their doors are open to all, they cater for as broad a spectrum as possible, and most importantly, they give access to books to those who cannot get access any other way.

Reading – Books are expensive.  E-books even more so.  I love books.  I relish books.  I have a fairly large collection (mostly SF, horror, Penguin editions and humour).  I own my own business and earn a decent wage.  But I can’t afford to buy many books.  I wander round Waterstones and gaze longingly at all the titles I would so dearly love to own.  But I can’t afford them!  E-books…another passion of mine, are woefully overpriced for a non-physical product.  Even though I own a Sony e-reader and an iPad, I still only own 10 e-books!  The publishing industry makes it tough for people to own books.  BUT…there is this wonderful, magical place near me, in Central Croydon, that LENDS ME BOOKS.  Our library actually allows me to borrow a book, read it and then return it, and take more books out afterwards.  Revolutionary…oh, hang on, no it’s not, it’s good sense.  Reading is a must for all of us…for life, work, education, enjoyment.  For children it is a gateway not only to learning but to self-discovery, to wider worlds, to aspiration and hope.  And, let’s be honest, there are some corking good stories out there!  But what if kids, and adults can no longer get access to books.  What then?  The Govt would have us believe kids can always get books from schools…possibly, but what about adults?  Oh, they can read them online, on an e-reader, or maybe with a free copy given away with a Sunday newspaper!  Right…so we want to leave access to great writing up to the hope that everyone will be online, or have an e-reader, or buy a middle-class over-sized Sunday paper?  REALLY?!

The Rant – Enough!  I don’t mind being thought of as wishy washy liberal minded.  I don’t mind being thought of as a self-serving creative.  The Govt can dismiss my beliefs on so many things because I don’t have kids, or Idon’t vote the right way, or I have a particular background.  But they need to sit up and start listening to the vox populi…we don’t want to see our libraries go.  We don’t want to see the death of lending.  We don’t want our kids and fellow adults unable to access books.  We don’t want access to books for the partially sighted or blind reduced to charitable status only. We WANT our libraries at the heart of our communities. We WANT our libraries to remain open, free to use and available to all.  We WANT you to understand that there may be lower footfall but it doesn’t mean lower interest.  Libraries, like forests, are part of the fabric of our country and we want them to stay.  If lower figures and niche useage were the be all and end all of any discussion then Radio 3 would have been shut down years ago, but it remains as a vital part of of cultural landscape.  By those rules, Westminster itself would be shut due to the less than impressive voting turnout.  You have NO MANDATE for this action.  The political classes DO NOT speak for the rest of us.  You represent us, you do not decided what we think, you LISTEN to us and then make the tough decisions.  So STOP NOW and look elsewhere for the paltry sums you need to save by this action.  Cut a few fat-cat paychecks in Westminster or on local councils.  Let’s have one less over-stuffed Quango.  Or, and here’s a radical idea…let’s cut 1% off the Overseas Aid budget for 1 year…that will solve a few home-grown crises!

Why I Love Libraries – as a kid I grew up in a working class family, struggling to become lower middle class.  My Dad worked all hours as an ambulanceman and later an ambulance manager.  My mum did part-time jobs.  We had a nice house and a decent enough lifestyle…but no fripperies or extras.  But I loved to read, and while Mum & Dad did their best, we didn’t have a ton of books at home…especially not the sort I wanted to read…scifi, horror, the classics, etc…  But about a mile away was a small local library, nestled next to the railway station.  On Saturday afternoons, often with my friend Matthew, I would head down there and grab a book from the shelf and read it, right there.  The librarian was always very nice and genuinely seemed pleased to have some kids quietly reading.  Over the years I read hundreds of books this way.  And with mum, we borrowed many more.  It was a road to self-education, to self-awareness, to creativity and adventure.  Much like LEGO allows a child to learn through play, library books allowed me to learn through reading, and at no cost!  My grandmother was a big user of her local library in Nuneaton…and as she grew older and her eyesight worsened she needed them more and more for the large print books, and the audiobooks, and eventually the Braille books.  When I was a teenager and about to leave school I used the big library in Bedford to help me with looking for work, researching jobs, getting online and attending courses on business and working.  When I first bought my flat and shared with my best friend, neither of us had much disposable income but we both loved to read, so we used Croydon Library a great deal.  When he died of a stroke in 2003, one of the very last things I had to do to tidy up his affairs was walk to the library and hand back the books he had borrowed…and how lovely and caring and sympathetic those librarians were when they heard the sad news.  I doubt whether I would be who I am today, do what I do today, without the libraries in my life.  I urge you to support the Save Libraries campaign…write to your MP, pop down to your local and show support, send a message to this Govt and say NO!  We all know cuts have to be made…but let’s cut the big cost items before we attack the little ones, eh?


About hokusbloke
30-something radio producer/director/writer, owner & MD of Ladbroke Productions (the UK's oldest independent radio production company). Lover of far fetched fiction, scifi and fantasy, my cats and all thinks tech. I am also the Chair of the Radio Independents Group, a former Trustee of the Radio Academy, and a Fellow of the RSA. I co-wrote, produced and directed Robert Rankin's "The Brightonomicon" audio series, produce Dr Who audiobooks for the BBC, and directed several sci-fi radio plays for BBC Radio 4 in 2009. I am a strong advocate for more SF audio and radio...keep watching this space for upcoming news!

One Response to Shave the Whales…then Save A Library!

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