I travelled up to Wolverton, part of my hometown of Milton Keynes, and visited the library there first. This was the library I did my Work Experience at, aged 15. To my surprise the library was no longer there - in its place, a dental surgery. I was informed that the library had been rehoused in the town hall. What a beautiful transition and a worthy site for Wolverton library.
I stepped inside to hear the eager clamour of children involved in singing rhymes with the library staff.
I enquired as to whether my old supervisor from 1996 still worked at the library. To my surprise, all these years on, I was told she is still very much with Milton Keynes library services, albeit at another branch. No reunion today, but it was heartening to hear - it hit home the fact that this is a job that has been "for life" for so long, and that is all set to change with the new government proposals, with so much uncertainty and precariousness int he sector.
I became emotional when I asked how the campaign to save both Stony Stratford library and the other Milton Keynes library under threat - Woburn Sands (a tiny vilage library in a house). I was told that "progress" was being made with the proposals and things did not look positive.
With tears in my eyes, I made my way on the bus journey to Stony Stratford.
It struck me what a pretty little town Stony Stratford is - so untouched in its old, traditional shop fronts and historical pubs, with such quanity of architectural awe. The grand church that marks Church Street was an impressive, towering sight. I turned the corner and found the little library. I had passes many local shops that had posters displayed prominently in their windows supporting the library's continued opening. It was very clear that here is a town whose locals care about their library.
Stony Stratford library is a cosy and welcoming place. The childrens' library is on the ground floor and I was heartened to read many emotional comments of praise from children of all ages about what their library means to them.
Upstairs, there were already completely empty shelves in some cases. I was told by staff that there wasn't much left to take and it was true.
The quiet ambience and lack of self-service machines lent opportunity for me to talk to a member of staff sat by a computer. He told me a personal story of how he came to work in libraries quite by accident as it was a job that would suit his health problems - one temporary post of 8 weeks started him off and here he was about to retire. He was full of praise for the job and the relationships he felt it enabled him to build, and the value the job generated, since it felt to him very much about offering a community service.
(View of residential street from library entrance)Stony Stratford is clearly a community library - clearly vital to the community it serves. In just a short visit, I saw droves of young children encountering playmates, or exploring books, and their mothers were talking away to each other too. In fact, everyone who entered the library was greeted warmly and it was as if everyone knew each other, or if not, they were keen to get to know those in their neighbourhood. Library users were exchanging talk about the book borrowing campaign, holding doors open for each other as heavy loads were carted away, and there was a great deal of enthusiasm, smiling, and sense of well-being about it all. The staff were very pleased to help and were happy to answer my many questions.
I learnt that the library used to be housed in the old fire station building nearby but had been in its current home since the 70s.
I have been a user of Milton Keynes libraries since my mum first introduced me to the service at Wobrun Sands when I was 2-years-old.
I paid £2.00 to get my replacement card, pay off old fines, and staff got me up to date on the system. I bought a jute bag to carry some of my haul of 15 books home in - in total I spent about £10.00 and I felt good about this branch getting my money as I would hope it would add to the cause.
It struck me that users were not just borrowing books willy-nilly, but carefully choosing their 15 nominations. I did the same, coming away with a book about the history of Top of The Pops, books on job searching and how to bolster your income with odd jobs, plus a stack of biographies (okay, the Eamonn Holmes one was a joke - of course!).
Soon my parents arrived in their car with their library cards and they too went about enjoying the library building and in selecting some stock to take home.
I am delighted to have just read that the campaign has worked in its first stage - all shelves were emptied, and even supportive councillors missed out on getting their share of books to loan as it was too late to grab what was left! Excellent work from everyone involved, and proof that a community can come together and act in positive force. Here's hoping it will make a mark, make a difference, and achieve a permanent library for the residents of Stony Stratford.
Link to the existing petition to Save Stony Stratford Library
Link to public consultation for Milton Keynes Council.