Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Sorry for the hiatus here. I have been keeping on campaigning elsewhere, for libraries all around, though. And working in one!

Please go here for my current campaign:



We are collecting personal statements about Wimbledon library, also. So if you've any comments to make about Merton Council's inclusion of Wimbledon Library in its Sites & Proposals document. We attended a council meeting where it was openly discussed that the library entrance could be altered, library front developed into retail frontage, ground floor turned into retail space, or library moved altogether! Yet the public were not widely consulted. Now is the time to have our say!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

SPEAK UP FOR LIBRARIES, March 13th, 2012

Central Hall is a big, grand, central government building. It felt like venturing into the illicit unknown – even more so upon entrance when I saw all the stone staircase, holy gilded d├ęcor and paintings. When I asked a smartly dressed attendance (in Conservative blue) if this was the place the libraries rally was taking place, he replied as if irked, with: ‘Unfortunately’. In retrospect, this was a good thing, it means that feathers were ruffled!

The steps curved magnificently, it was quite a feeling to be traversing them. On the third floor, I found the hall where the rally was taking place. Banners were in abundance, decking the banisters of the upper hall: SAVE SUFFOLK LIBRARIES, KEEP LIBRARIES OPEN, etc. It was much more of a sit down and listen to speeches/watch films day of events than anything like a protest march. When I first arrived, Kate Mosse (author not model!) was talking passionately about library conservation and future generations.

I noted down some pertinent facts from the day, which I want to report here:

·                    More people use libraries per week, than go to Premiere League football matches – or go to the cinema.

·                    If the service is run down, people won’t use it – if they don’t use it, local councils can use that as reason to shut it down completely.

·                    4million children in this country don’t own a book.

·                    1 in 6 adults is functionally illiterate.

It was also reported that 2,000 library staff have been lost in the last year, and that libraries consume less than 2 per cent of local council budgets, yet are being hit incredibly hard. Two libraries per week are closed or given over to be entirely volunteer run.

There were speakers from many supportive important organisations, from the Women’s Institute to CILIP to Unison.
Other speakers included Dan Jarvis MP for Barnsley Central, and the Shadow Culture Minister, and my personal favourite Ian Anstice of the excellent and thorough Public Libraries News blog – I have been following this blog for over a year, and it covers national news about libraries, good and bad – it seems inexhaustive, it is expertly done, and I doff my hat to his incredibly hard work that must consume much of his life. He also manages a public library, though understandably did not make it publicly known which. I was really moved when he said that libraries are every bit vital frontline services as hospitals. He mentioned how many often in his day customers approach him with concerns about the library’s future and how they could not live without it – one guy said he would commit suicide without his local library. But councils only know how to number crunch, I think, and it’s all quantative not qualitative, and nothing to do with caring.

Ian Clark from Voices for the Library, another great online campaign I have been following for over a year, gave a rousing speech also. He highlighted how children are affected by the losses/potential losses – those from poor backgrounds being left without access to books, and yet the government wants every child in the UK to read 50 books a year!

Andrew Coburn and Laura Swaffield were introduced, from The Library Campaign, which has a marvellous magazine full of important current issues related to libraries in crisis. I did not realise, but this is a registered charities – set up 30 years ago, when the Conservatives were doing similar shameful practices. They pointed out that even councils who are not closing libraries should be monitored under suspicion as it could get overlooked where else they are making the cuts to libraries which are seen as ‘soft targets’. Laura was really animated about the cause – she said that libraries are an essential service in a rich country; something that a customer once said to me when I was a library assistant in a public library last year.

Alan Gibbons chaired the whole event, and he was inspiringly impassioned, outspoken, lively and committed to the cause. I have been following his blog over the last year or so, too. He is a children’s writer who has no financially vested interest (he, like many authors, doesn’t make much money from libraries) and is on board to champion the necessary nature of libraries in society. He profiled his background as being poor, parents who worked in a toilet factory (he joked that they were not ‘flushed’ with success), and libraries were his lifeline, how he got his voice, how he developed his intelligence and made strides in life. Alan is also involved in Campaign for The Book.

A musical interlude drew fits of laughter from younger members of the crowd - and there was a surprisingly low number of youth in attendance, there were many grey hairs in the rows of audience, and I had to wonder if these were people who had been working in the library service for decades and were now set to lose their jobs – because often it seems to be the older, trained, professional, brilliant actual librarians who are losing out on their entire life’s profession here.

One Man and His Beard came on in Wellington boots, sunglasses, and a heavy metal style band t-shirt and cap. He played barre chord punk and whined out immensely long atonal notes about libraries being cherished, necessary things. Perhaps if they installed this man in Ed Vaizey and David Cameron’s faces, they would agree to improving library services for all time, just to be rid of the sonic abuse. I’m sure he would not be insulted by me saying this, as I am sure this is the idea. Although, strangely; apparently, he is the man who saved BBC Radio 6Music!
The day of films and speeches wound down. But Alan told of how we could queue up outside the houses of Parliament to get a green card to meet our local MP to lobby them in person. 
The day got me thinking a lot. It suddenly dawned blindingly on me that I had been forced to leave my last library assistant job in a public library not just because of abusive, prejudice, and downright lazy management staff; but also in part because the restructuring to the service delivery/style - it had changed so completely that the pressure was suddenly without warning all on one member of staff (me), and it had sent me crackers as well as all the other incidents, bullying, unfair work distribution, unfair treatment, etc. But the library I worked in is not in my local borough and so I cannot write to or meet with the relevant MP. There is also the fact that complaining at the time would have got me into trouble with said job. I think many library workers must be in that position.

The library fight is not over, though, by any means.
Relevant links:

Over 100 Reasons Why Libraries Are Important to Society

March 13th is Speak Up for Libraries Day. I decided to write a list of all the reasons I love libraries and why they are important to me and to society.

1.          Free spaces where everyone is welcome.

2.          Books, fiction, non-fiction, reference, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, audio books.

3.          Free borrowing of books and other items – allows you access to a dozen or more items which most people could not afford to obtain on one visit in a shop.

4.          Encourages reading.

5.          Access to archives of information – big brand book shops do not have the breadth of old or out of print stock that libraries can have.

6.          Beautiful, historical buildings – my favourites being red brick Victorian pillars of majesty, from a time when libraries were rightly respected and revered as vital establishments.

7.          Carefully chosen stock with individual branches’ customers in mind. Staff employed to do this job.

8.          The best library staff are passionate, and informed.

9.          Physical arrangement of books – whether on beautiful old mahogany wooden shelving, or modern metal frames, it means the books are all there in front of you in one space – the internet can’t do this in the same way. Some libraries can be stunning examples of layouts – such as the gorgeous old reference library in Westminster, which has two floors to it, with steps and ladders to get up there, book-lined walls, and just a wonderful air of tradition.

10. Every library branch looks different, has its own style, character (and characters!), setting.

11. The best library staff make you feel like the library is your space, and make you feel genuinely part of your community – respected and valued and maybe even a friend.

12.  Free computing – free internet can be a lifeline to a wide range of people, especially people looking for and applying for jobs, kids doing their homework, people without a printer at home, people who can’t afford their own computer.

13.  Free help with learning to use computers and the internet – really needed by the elderly who can be the most neglected members of our society.

14.  Free courses, like job skills, English if it’s not your native language, or fun things like knitting, creating writing, arts and sports.

15.  Better for the environment that you borrow and return books from a reserve than to keep buying and buying and throw things away.

16.  If you change your mind about a book, it hasn’t cost you any money. A good way of sampling things, or dipping into a variety of titles.

17.  Inviting places.

18.  Reasonable priced DVDs and CDs to rent.

19.  The best libraries can have really well chosen DVD selections – eg arthouse films/obscure/foreign titles.

20.  Good libraries have a really wide range of music – not just pop and indie, but jazz, folk, classical, Cajun and other world music – allows you to experiment for a low price.

21.  You never know what you’ll read on the notice board – form a band (one genuine example is The Primitives formed through an advert in Coventry Library in the 1980s!), get a job, go to a local film, join a local activity group, rent a flat, or even as I did have the amazing chance to look after someone’s cat in my house while they were on holiday (I’ll never forget the day we met the cat in the library – her owner had brought her inside a big green shopping bag and she was avidly trying to climb out!).

22.  Learn new skills – computer books can be extremely expensive, libraries have books on everything from Excel to designing your own website. The same goes for language courses – you can rent those pretty inexpensively as well.

23.  Borrow travel books for free, again these can be expensive to buy and you might only need them once.

24.  Community places where we can meet – you might bump into someone you know form the local area, chance meetings, friendships old and new.

25.  Art books are beautiful.

26.  Study at a nice big desk for free – vital if you have a noisy home life, or just can’t get disciplined.

27.  Inspiring places to write – numerous authors have admitted to writing drafts of their books in libraries (one example is Bill Drummond’s 45 in Aylesbury Library – in the book he writes about its importance, and about the characters he met/liked there).

28.  Free story times/nursery rhyme singing groups for babies and toddlers – alleviates the pressure for parents, and gives them a chance to meet other parents, the kids to mix, and babies to get their first experience of reading.

29.  Children gain independence by having the freedom to choose their own books, and enjoy browsing and get excited about borrowing things.

30.  Stickers, badges, certificates, teddy bears, and other free giveaways to encourage and reward the reading of very young children.

31.  Teenagers can borrow things independently without their friends/parents judging.

32.  Teenagers can easily make the transition from borrowing children’s/young adult books to adult fiction – chance to browse and experiment, again without feeling conscience/judged as no one knows them in the library and they can look around freely.

33.  Safe meeting place, for arranging to meet new people, or just for meeting people you know in a central, convenient place.

34.  Everything collected in one place, feels very special.

35.  Landmark buildings of many villages, towns and cities.

36.  People are proud of their libraries.

37.  Reading spaces – somewhere to go and find a quiet corner on your own, to read.

38.  Staff are human and can recommend you books similar to what you’ve just read, or in general, which a computer can’t do as well.

39.  Libraries offer well-read/bookish people the chance to be employed in a job that involves knowing about books, working lovingly with books.

40.  Places where people feel safe.

41.  Many libraries are not only fine examples of architecture, but also have impressive interiors, like stained glass windows in Hammersmith Library, the tessellated books on the outside of the walls of Wimbledon Library, chandeliers and mahogany shelving in Kensal Rise library, regular artwork displays in Putney Library (especially from local schools).

42.  Many library buildings are Grade listed.

43.  Some libraries have historical importance – eg Kensal Rise was opened by Mark Twain more than a century ago.

44.  Shelter from the rain!

45.  Stock for sale cheaply – e.g. CDs for £1, childrens books for 30p, useful for those who can’t always afford things brand new, plus recycles the item.

46.  Reading Groups – supportive, encouraging, educative, social.

47.  Open on weekends.

48.  Some libraries are open till 10 at night.

49.  Some libraries have cafes.

50.  Cambridge Library has its own Mediateque like the one at London’s British Film Institute, with archived footage and old/obscure films/TV shows/documentaries/historical images.

51.  Easy to join up.

52.  Easy to borrow.

53.  Easy to return.

54.  Easy to renew items.

55.  Renewals access online and by phone.

56.  Important local employers.

57.  Longstanding service that’s valued by huge number of members of society.

58.  Borrow audio books – CD or tape versions of books, useful for people on the move or hard of sight/blind. Also fun alternative to reading, e.g. if doing housework or communting.

59.  Can download (often for free) MP3 audio versions of books

60.  Thousands of items.

61.  Can order items from other branches. Rich variety available at low cost.

62.  Libraries introduced me to some of my most favourite bands (even to this day), such as The Cure, Billy Bragg, New Order, etc.

63.  Recommendations.

64.  Book displays.

65.  Poetry.

66.  Book bags/books free to babies/children if they didn’t get them from health advisor.

67.  Schemes to encourage children to read in the summer holidays.

68. Competitions for children – such as prizes for completing summer reading challenge.

69.  Some libraries have produced pretty library cards with photos of the local area on (Surrey libraries).

70.  Even local councillors use libraries!

71.  Plays.

72.  Schemes to improve literacy in the young and adult.

73.  Place to take your kids on a rainy day.

74.  Retreat for entertainment when you are low on money, especially if you have a family.

75.  Books in other languages.

76.  Place to visit in between shopping – convenient, easy, gives you a break.

77.  Trained children’s librarians – help with book choices, help with homework, understand children and their needs.

78.  Reference section.

79.  Get lost in a world of your own.

80.  Get directions to local places.

81.  Leaflets and other free information on display – about local area, activities, groups, support, local council services, etc.

82.  Helpful staff.

83.  Staff understand and are sensitive to people who need extra care, like catering for group visits from mental health care homes.

84.  School groups can visit – gives kids first taste of library. I still remember my first visit with my class in the mid 80s!

85.  Drawing/activities for children.

86.  Ordnance Survey Maps.

87.  Get information on everything to do with your local council/services, contact details, centres to visit, etc.

88.  Good place to take children to get them reading, doing homework, if you struggle to get them to do so at home.

89.  Research.

90.  Local history.

91.  Help with researching your family history.

92.  The smell of old books, new books, colourful books, shiny books!

93.  Sheet music.

94.  Easy to find your way around, or staff to help.

95.  Libraries make you think.

96.  Libraries inspire.

97.  Libraries educate.

98.  Libraries comfort.

99.  Libraries broaden people’s minds.

100.    Libraries improve people’s well being, especially mentally.

101.    Libraries are lifelines.

102.    Libraries are more vital than ever.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Wandsworth council libraries consultation and the sad, uncertain future of York Gardens Library

The Wandsworth Council libraries "consultation" result was announced in February - 10 days after the closing date. Singular because I find it impossible to believe it was not a ready-written press-release, a plan set in stone before a single pair of eyes were cast on the 1,200 surveys that were returned; or that 1,200 surveys could be analysed in just 10 days.

The original plan announced last month was that the library would retain only its children and IT services. Now it seems that the library as a whole will be saved, but only if volunteers will run it. Article from newspaper about how York Gardens would be used as a pilot for the Big Society scheme - it's noted that if the pilot failed the council could just put the blame on the community not doing enough to save it and thus evade any blame themselves.

The new plans being considered are published here:

It was quite clear from some of the survey results quoted that there was a large amount of questioning over the ability of volunteers to run libraries as opposed to trained, skilled, professional staff. Indeed, the result was resounding that the majority were deeply concerned over York Gardens being earmarked for closure and the detrimental effects this would leave on such a deprived, small, immediate community.

The way Wandsworth Council chose to present the reults are in PDF form here.

My comments were quoted directly from my consultation form at least twice that I can see, namely:

"Paid library workers with professional knowledge and skills, not volunteers, please."

"Having heard the news of the possible closure of York Gardens library in the Wandsworth
borough of London, I made a special trip to visit when normally I would access Southfields
library, 3 miles away. I immediately warmed to York Gardens library. Set in a large estate
of tower blocks, I can see how vital an asset it must be to the surrounding large community.
Looking at the various events, info, and things on offer, it's clear that there's so much more
than a mere book-lending facility here. Reading groups of all ages, activities for children,
craft activities for young people, even an old memories of Battersea group. What's more,
the library itself is inside a community building with a community centre that offers much to
the local residents. The library offers an incredibly impressive range of items on loan for
such a compact space, and is laid out in such a way that it's heart-warming - I feel
immediately positive of mood, after what had today been an upsetting morning; because it's
simply such a good place to be; good for the mental health. People think of London as
being this big centre, when really there are countless little communities just as cut-off as
anywhere smaller. And London does have its tiny communities. York Gardens is beset by
what must be Council or ex-Council tower block flats. There are pockets of poverty in all bits of London - and people forget this, just how vital libraries are in providing info on all kinds of local info, be it related to further education, benefits, leisure centres and other amenities in the area, local writing competitions, even the sale of local postcards and local history books. The provision is palpable. I will make the lengthy journey every week to use this library and make it my regular library. A former Wandsworth resident, I now live in Merton. It would be detrimental to the immediate community and beyond should the Council choose to close this library."

Save Kensal Rise Library

I'm heartened that legal challenges are in process in order to try and stop the ill-thought closure of libraries such as Kensal Rise in Brent borough. Posted online on the Save Kensal Library Blog a while ago, I saw a legal statement that said that as a condition of the building being bestowed as a gifted building on the general public, it would only ever be used as a library. There ought be some law to protect buildings as beautiful as this - libraries are often amazing examples of architecture and this is seldom respected.

It is a majestic building indeed. The area feels very community-bound with its close, Victorian houses and streets, and the library is at the centre of the neighbourhood, standing pillar-like proud. Inside reveals the only library I've ever set foot in that has chandeliers shining down. The book cases are of the deep mahogany wood and in the traditional library style that I am so fond of.

A compact library but as with York Gardens, I found that there was a mine of interesting and wide-reaching material on offer. I joined up, was met with friendliness and encouragement and information from staff, and I came away with a range of books - on low salt cooking, poetry and cat care.

I'm so glad to see that there are many events being put on to support the library's plight. In fact, it's said that if the council would open up use of the library's upper floor, events could be put on there regularly and could in fact fund the library and serve it very well. Why do councils and library management staff so consistently shun and fail to exploit the full benefits that fascinating and fun events could so regularly bring to libraries? Beyond readings - eg concerts/gigs, live comedy, social clubs and events?

Save Kensal Rise petition.

This is a library that stands at over 100 years old and was opened by Mark Twain.


It's frustrating how little chance I get to update this blog, but trust that I have still been engaged in working towards various plights - filling in consultation forms, lobbying MPs, visiting and joining many many libraries, and working on a couple of print publications about the brilliance of mighty libraries. And I am all the while taking in as much as I can from the excellent public libraries blog.

I will do my utmost to blog some updates on all this and more...

Monday, 21 March 2011

Law that protects libraries to be scrapped if underhand MPs have their way

It has come to my attention via The Good Library Blog that there is something very underhand going on with the laws that protect our libraries.

I take this directly from Perkins' blog:

Please write urgently to your MP about the law that protects public libraries

I am sure that everyone reading this knows that in the UK there is a law which requires local councils to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service for all people who wish to make use thereof. It is the upholding of that 1964 Libraries and Museums Act which is the basis of all the campaigns to save libraries.

Yesterday we discovered a secret move by state officials to remove the burden of the duty placed on councils by including the main requirements of the Act in a whole list of possible changes to local government requirements. Quite easily the whole legal foundation of the public library service could be removed without the public or parliament realising that the law had quietly and secretly been changed.

It is an appalling and underhand thing of those officials to attempt. It reveals the worst of the state of our democracy. And it is really happening, do not be surprised.

Find and contact your local MP using this link.