A Passionate and Angry Plea by Sammy Evans.
Since the coalition came to power in 2010, libraries – along with other cultural services – came under attack as an easy austerity target with the government demanding financial cuts. Here are a few facts and figures:
- Since 2010, £35bn of government spending has been cut, with the plan to cut a further £55bn by 2019.
- As of May 2015, government funding for councils is 53% lower than it was in 2010.
- Since 2010, the amount of people who use their libraries in the UK has fallen from 40million to 282million and over 350 libraries across the UK have closed down under coalition cuts.
- This figure is set to rise to 1, 000 closures by 2016.
- Currently, of the ones that are left open, many are not open for more than 10 hours a week.
Due to the level of these cutbacks, many libraries around the UK, particularly in Birmingham, are no longer able to buy new books and are instead asking the public to donate books and newspapers. All around the UK many libraries were closed because they could not find enough volunteers to run them.
Below, is a closures map which was put together earlier this year. The representations are as follows:
This map puts into perspective how hard the austerity cuts are hitting libraries across the UK.
It is suprising to me though that public libraries were the first to be targeted amidst the financial cuts. Aside from the fact that books are obviously vital for educational and recreational purposes, libraries have been wonderfully successful in modernising their function: they now have a high digital presence and deliver IT and support for schools, job seekers, and benefit claimants. This is on top of the support groups, reading sessions and homework clubs that they provide.
These support groups are especially important for youngsters, for those who were never encouraged to read as a child rarely become fully literate. Reading also helps create an awareness of global culture, history and politics. In turn, it helps develop one’s empathy and provides escapism. Escapism is important for everyone, and for many people it becomes a way to survive. Fiction opens a door, shows us light, and provides us with the weapon of imagination. As Neil Gaiman wrote, “the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.”
It is on this basis that I am making an impassioned plea for people to understand that libraries are crucial in getting children on the reading ladder, and thus on the road to a better understanding of the world. Fiction also undeniably rescues those who are struggling to cope with a variety of difficult situations. So I ask: without libraries, how are those who have little money supposed to survive?
Furthermore, it is baffling to me that libraries would be one of the first and largest targets of the cuts. Given the crucial role that libraries play in supporting a wide range of government priorities, including literacy, education, health, and business support, their insistence on such severe cuts seems to me not only ignorant, but also plain stupid. How can they not see the value of keeping libraries open? The closure of so many public libraries is essentially stealing from the future to pay for today.
After all, “investing in education is one of the single most important things we can do to ensure a strong future.” So I ask, without the multiple functions of the public library,where does our future lie?
For more information on cuts and closures in the UK, visit the Public Libraries News Site.
For a comprehensive and up-to-date list of local library groups and campaigns visit The Library Campaign.