Libraries, Libraries, Libraries

12 March 2012

On Tuesday 13th March the ‘Speak Up for Libraries’ rally & lobby will be held at Central Hall, Westminster, London.  Ed Vaizey – affable, but ineffectual in the cause of preventing the dismantling of our national library service – will be giving evidence to the Select Committee in the morning. At 12 noon, Alan Gibbons – children’s author and founder of Campaign for the Book – will chair the rally & lead the lobby.

A range of speakers from all areas of the campaign to support libraries will be there and short films about different campaigns will be broadcast.  I have no doubt there will be a fair few statistics bandied about, many of them hair-raising, depressing.

No doubt there will be heroes and villains on the day – and there will be criticisms, too, of the official organisations who should have protected the principles and legacy of our national library service over the past few years and have failed to do so.

For me, it will be the fifth public speech I’ve given in ten days – the Society of Bookmen, promoting the Orange Prize 2012 longlist, at the Oxford Union, at a publishing sales conference at BAFTA last week.  At each of those events, in the Q&A session, the issue of libraries has come up in one form or another. There is a genuine affection for libraries, for the role that they play – both historic and for the future – but it is tinged with regret. It’s become clear that many who are not personally involved in campaigning feel that the argument that growing access to the internet signals the death of libraries has been won.

It’s simply not true. In any case, some 25% (figures vary) of UK citizens do not have access to the internet. For them, the library is essential in getting access to the services many of us take for granted. More importantly, the physical realities of libraries – a free and accessible space at the heart of our towns and cities – proclaims that we are a Society that values reading and writing. That aspiration and education for all is not about money, only, but about provision and access to all. Buying (or borrowing) online is all very well if you know what you want, but those who are returning or reluctant readers need to be able to engage with what might suit them, choose books that might most tempt them, and where better than a library to discover the physical reality of the millions of stories on offer?

Whatever your views, why not come along tomorrow and voice them? Join the debate. Of if you can’t manage to be at Central Hall in person, post a message on the website or or email your support.