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It’s something of an understatement to say that the results of the general election were disappointing, not just on a personal level but also for what it means for libraries. It’s difficult not to be despondent over the ramifications, which are outlined by Ian Anstice on Public Library News, with the headlines being:
This, unfortunately will be the new realism of the next five years and I believe Ian’s analysis will prove to be depressingly accurate. What we will see now is the re-invigoration of Big Society principles, underpinned by Localism, which will transform the whole public library landscape. The Conservatives are ideologically driven by the desire for a smaller state, less direct government intervention, and reduced public services delivered increasingly by third sector, voluntary organisations, and the private sector.
Libraries will continue to be, along with other public services, hostages to such ideology with little in the way to restrain the inevitable outcome and decline. I have no doubt that public libraries will continue to exist in the future but in a form that is radically different to that of 10 or even 5 years ago in terms of delivery and funding. Whether they will remain comprehensive and efficient in their new form will be open to intense debate.
For many campaigners therefore the battle to protect libraries continues but perhaps there needs to be a period of reflection and consolidation in order to formulate, if possible, a unified national strategy to resist the coming changes. I am not directly involved with the Library Campaign, Speak Up For Libraries, or Voices for the Library but it seems to me that these organsiations would be best placed to begin such a conversation.
Unfortunately, campaigns of the past five years have had only limited success. To be more effective in the future library protest needs to evolve and align with different local and national campaigns, over hospitals, education, tax avoidance etc. There is strength in unity but too many campaigns for libraries have acted in isolation. Such insularity will be even less effective in the face of rampant Tory ideology. It’s not just public libraries but all those in the public sector; schools, colleges, university, and NHS libraries that will be under threat.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity have organised a mass protest in London on June 20th. It would be an empowering gesture if there were a large library contingent there made up of campaigners, organisations – dare I hope for Cilip input – save library groups, staff, and of course library users. Not just speaking up for libraries but shouting out for them.
What has become increasingly obvious is that it’s difficult to campaign for libraries without appreciating what is happening to public services overall. When I first started this blog it was in response to a very narrow debate within Cilip over a name change. It quickly morphed into advocating for libraries and library staff as reductions and closures increased in pace. But against this background was always the hope that the coalition would be ousted and a slow recovery could begin. That hope has been well and truly dashed.
After the election David Cameron announced his aim was “…to govern on the basis of governing for everyone in our United Kingdom” under the mantle of ‘One Nation’. Almost immediately we found out what sort of ‘one nation’ he meant with massive welfare cuts, attacks on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, scrapping the human rights act, destroying workers rights, and more damaging austerity measures.
But we are not ‘One Nation’ and many of us do not agree with the vision Cameron offers. This government does not represent the majority. It is the result of an archaic and increasingly undemocratic voting system in which the Conservatives are governing with only 24% of the vote. This is not a mandate.
Thus, the fight for libraries is also the fight for public services and changing the system so that it works for everyone not just an elite. The downside of the election is we have 5 more years of Tory government, the upside is we have 5 years to fight for real and lasting change.
And with that thought I have decided that now is a natural stopping point and this will be my last post on Leon’s Library Blog. I shall be launching a new site shortly, which will have a stronger political slant as well as advocating for public services, and electoral reform – although I’m sure I will still make the occasional foray into library matters!
It just remains to say thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to read, contribute, and share my ramblings and musings over the past couple of years. A very big thank you indeed.
Well, it’s here. After five years of austerity, attacks on public services, widening inequality, and of course the continuing decline of public libraries, the election is with us. During this time, according to Cipfa, there has been:
• The loss of 337 libraries
• Reduction of staff from 25,648 to 19,308
• Increase of volunteers from 15,894 to 35,813
(figures from the Guardian)
Added to which, 30-40% reduction in budgets, hollowing out of services, and deprofessionalisation. Let’s also not forget the high profile judicial reviews of Lincolnshire and the eye-watering percentage of libraries forced on reluctant communities by authorities such as Sheffield.
Despite all of this Ed Vaizey recently defended his handling of libraries and averred that the scale of library closures had been exaggerated. This view was quickly contested by the redoubtable Alan Gibbons, who has challenged Mr Vaizey to a public debate on the matter. While I would dearly love to see such a debate I hope the electorate passes a more compelling judgement and that Vaizey and his party are unceremoniously ejected from office
What makes the claim by Ed Vaizey so outlandish is that his own department, DCMS, does not keep track of library closures so he has no reliable figures to draw on other than those supplied by Cipfa, which he appears to have ignored. A more comprehensive and realistic estimation of library changes is provided by Public Library News.
One issue surrounding the election is the accusation of it being dull and that all the parties are the same. I absolutely disagree.
As mainstream politics fracture under the weight of disillusionment with the Westminster parties the smaller parties have a greater opportunity to influence both the results and aftermath of the election. This is the new politics of the 21st Century. Whether it will have lasting impact remains to be seen but one thing is certain; we live in exciting, if somewhat bemusing political times.
Robert Peston, BBC economics editor, has written an excellent post around this theme and argues that this election really matters.
Although, libraries are not on the scale of the NHS or Education in terms of generating political headlines they are a valued and much loved service that the public genuinely cares about. Unfortunately, libraries and other public services cannot stand another 5 years of Tory government, whether propped-up by another party or not.
Everyone who cares about the survival of libraries: staff, campaigners, and users should think carefully when casting their vote. Give libraries a fighting chance of recovery by not electing those whose avowed aim is to continually shrink and undermine public services.